Imagine if we had good data, an empirically based rationale to develop a program that consistently:
1. Reduced levels of childhood poverty
2. Reduced infant and early childhood mortality
3.Reduced maternal depression
4. Reduced affective disorders in middle school students
5. Reduced juvenile crime for children of both sexes
6. Reduced likelihood of substance abuse
7. Reduced likelihood of early sexual activity
8. Reduced teen pregnancy
9.Reduced risk of child abuse
10. Reduced likelihood of substance abuse
11. Reduced likelihood of obesity
12. Reduced likelihood of dropping out of school
13. Increased likelihood of academic accomplishment
Imagine the clamor to put in place a program that did all these things. Well, it's been done. It's just that not everyone's on board with the program. It's called Fatherhood. You can read more about these studies here.
(Update: after I posted this piece earlier, I came across another site discussing some research about the benefits of dads. You can see that here.)
The fact that I have to write this--or that it might be controversial--is a sign of cultural madness. We all understand that correlation is not causality, but at some point, it seems that wise people might look at all this smoke and start to wonder if there is a fire.
Normally, I post a cheerful, warm reflection on fatherhood. But I've been noticing that more and more, the very idea of fatherhood, and the idea that it might be important, is becoming extremely unfashionable in many circles--we see everything from amused apathy to outright hostility.
Instead, however, of honoring good fathers and sending cultural messages that they are important, our culture is rife with examples of bad, stupid, and clueless fathers. TV commercials, movies, television shows have all somehow given in to the stupid-father cliche, or the fathers-are-unnecessary theme.
Yes, there are some counter-examples. But I would suggest that, culturally speaking, we have generalized bad/dumb fathers into our collective conscious, while reducing good fathers to isolated examples. That is, we grant that there are some exceptions to the dumb dad syndrome, but our general cultural bias, our unexamined cultural default setting, is that most dads are somewhere on the scale of benign idiot to abusive jerk.
Let's think about this for a minute. I wonder if we could try a thought experiment. I wonder if we could look for places in our society where there are large instances of fatherlessness--places where engaged fathers are rare. We might look at those places and see if they are places that most of us want to live. Most likely, they would be places with high crime, low educational opportunity and probably limited chances for economic advancement. We might also look for places where engaged fathers are more common and compare the quality of life and living conditions. Are there differences?
Discerning clear-cut cause and effect in complex human systems is difficult. But this seems like a no-brainer to me. And yes, obviously a child can grow up in a house without a father and be happy and successful. No one says that it's impossible for a mother to raise good kids alone. But if we are really worried about the kids, as opposed to various ideological agendas, then we have to be honest about what is the best way to maximize the likelihood of the best possible outcomes. I'm not a social scientist, but my understanding is that this is a case where the data are pretty consistently overwhelming.
It makes me sad to think that there are kids in this world who will not ever know the security of a father. The absolute, un-cool, possibly stodgy, old-fashioned, total security that comes from this unique role.
It makes me sad that there are kids who don't have dads and don't know any different--and who are absorbing messages from the culture that it's okay--that dads are lame or useless.
The producers of such garbage are doing a huge disservice to who are already vulnerable.
This is a problem all of us need to face. The health of our culture and the strength of families in that culture effect us all. They effect us in terms of tax dollars needed for educational intervention, in increased crime, in medical interventions for obesity and so on.
Our culture is the air that our society breathes, the way our collective values are both formed and expressed.
Dads are not moms. They do different things. They play different roles. They are not interchangeable. Like moms, dads make mistakes. They do things wrong. But these studies I mentioned above didn't rely on perfect dads. Some of them just demonstrate a benefit from the presence of a father. Some demonstrate a benefit from an engaged father. But they all show what most of us ought to just know and understand intuitively : having a father makes a profound difference in a child's life in ways that can be measured and in ways that have significant outcomes for society at large.
It's time that we start encouraging, cheering, and celebrating fathers. It's time we start teaching young men that fatherhood is a worthy aspiration and something to look forward to. It's time we teach young women that having a husband involved in her life and the life of her child should be the default setting. Sure, there might need to be some exceptions, and we don't want to ostracize and stigmatize--but let's re-establish the optimal situation and then figure out exceptions with kindness and support.
I really wanted to hear something today or this week and I didn't. So, instead of hearing it, I guess I'll be the one to say it.
What I wanted to hear (but didn't) was an unabashed, unqualified celebration of fathers and fatherhood. I wanted to hear a full-throated tribute that was unmixed with either an exhortation to be better, a reference to all the dads in the world who have dropped the ball, or an implicit stance that men are genial but foolish beings far below the standard of their much more intelligent wives and children.
I didn't hear that ever--not online, not at church, not anywhere (that's not true--my wife is good at that). And that is kind of sad.
The contemporary way of celebrating Father's day, and this is fairly consistent from the President of the U.S. to columnists to speakers in church, is to start by noting how many fathers out there don't live up to their responsibilities and then to call on everyone to step it up and do better. There is usually a short anecdote thrown in at the end about the speaker/writer's own father or husband, who was a wonderful, loving man.
Here's what I want to point out. All these writers and speakers have a wonderful example to point to, and yet the implication is that he is sort of an exception. But, if all these people had such wonderful dads, that's a lot of exceptions!
I wonder if we could simply take one day of the year and celebrate those fathers that love their kids and wives and do all they can to care for their families, whether they are breadwinners or newly-unemployed stay-at-home dads.
Is that really so much to ask? One day a year when we don't look at deadbeats or abusers and instead look at the good guys and say, "You rock!" Not, "You need to do better," or make nudge-nudge-wink-wink jokes about how goofily sweet and clueless dads are. I think dads deserve better than that.
As a teacher, I see an awful lot of dads. I meet them when they I show them around our school during the admissions process. I meet with them in parent teacher conferences. I see them building scenery or gathering props for the plays. I see them there every night of performances with flowers for their daughters and I see them supporting a son who has chosen to do theatre instead of football. I see them coaching their sons and daughters in every sport you can name. And when I don't see them, it's because they are usually at work trying to pay for their children to go to a private school and have access to piano lessons, karate, horseback riding, and so forth.
These are good, decent men. They aren't perfect but they are stand-up guys who are doing all they can to provide for their families in a world where that is increasingly difficult.
In my capacity at church, I work with 9 congregations, from middle TN up into Kentucky. I have met hundreds of men over the past years. Good, honest, God-fearing men who volunteer thousands of hours in lay ministry. This includes helping scouts, visiting the sick, doing home repairs for widows, donating money, chaperoning the annual camp for young women, humanitarian work, and dozens of other endeavors.
They do this while holding down jobs and/or going to school. They take care of their families and try with everything they have to be good husbands and fathers.
I fear that the rotten view of fathers, fatherhood, and men in general that is pandemic in pop culture has started to seep into our culture at large and that's a shame. There are an awful lot of good, decent, hardworking family men out in the world today. They don't get sit-coms, they don't show up in news reports. They don't have press conferences and the fact that they are so reliable means that they are taken for granted for a society that leans more heavily on them than anyone realizes. If all these good guys were to go away over night, we would notice: as families, as communities, and as a country. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal noted just how valuable the presence of a father is in the lives of children. It is no small thing to have a father. That makes it no small thing to be a father. And I'd say the same thing to those who fill father-like roles--teachers, coaches, scoutmasters and on and on.
So, Happy Father's day to all you guys who are working and trying and doing all you can. You're not perfect but you don't have to be. Thanks for everything you do and God bless you in your efforts! I feel quite sure that the Father of us all is really happy and grateful for all you do to nurture, protect, teach, guide, provide and all the rest. Whatever your religion or lack thereof, your background, politics, and all the other things we use to divide each other: Happy Father's Day. You rock.
Happy Father's Day!
Today, I am deeply grateful for the fathers and the good men who have shaped and blessed my life. I actually posted this last year, on MMB, but I have been so busy that I haven't had time to write anything new.
That's What Father's Do
When we were first married we were very poor and very pregnant.I remember one night how excited we were when we found thirty-three cents in our couch cushions.This allowed us to walk to McDonald's and buy an ice cream cone, an almost decadent extravagance.Poor Meredith was pregnant and craving a Subway sandwich in a way that only a pregnant woman can.But given the state of our finances, she might as well have wanted a twelve course meal flown in from Paris.
After fighting the craving for a week or two, she finally broke down and called her dad to ask if he could loan us a few dollars for Subway.A few days later the mail brought a check for $300.00.An attached note said “Meredith’s Subway cushion.” That’s what fathers do.
Years ago our toddler caught a ghastly stomach virus.He literally could not keep anything down.We were up around the clock taking care of him and doing laundry and cleaning up body fluids.It is not hyperbole to say that we did laundry 24 hours a day.After a few days of this, we were completely exhausted.We called to see if my mom could help us.She was sympathetic, but reluctant because after many years at his company, my dad was leaving and his firm was giving a formal farewell dinner.Obviously, this was not something that could be rescheduled or lightly missed.Although we would have loved the help, we understood the significance of the event.
Mom called back shortly after, and said Dad had insisted that she miss the dinner and come help us.That’s what fathers do.
One of my favorite scriptures is an obscure verse from the story of Helaman’s young warriors. Helaman’s account contains this almost incidental verse: “And now it came to pass in the second month of this year, there was brought unto us many provisions from the fathers of those my two thousand sons” (Alma 56:27).
Every time I read this I get a lump in my throat and my eyes get a little teary.
We hear most frequently about the mothers of these outstanding young men and rightly so. But, on Father’s Day, I like to reflect on this verse and think about the fathers of these warriors.
I can see these worn and weary men .Time and suffering have etched lines in their faces and refining fires have burned their hair to gray. But their eyes glow with the light of faith and they are moist as they see their sons. Their bodies are thin from the hard labor required to raise this food, the rigors of the journey, and the knowledge that whatever they eat leaves less for their sons. They may limp and stagger a bit. They’ve been pushing themselves to cover as much ground as possible so they haven’t had much sleep. Undoubtedly some of them have holes in their sandals so their sons could have a new pair.
They clutch sticks and staves tightly. They are carrying precious food through a war-torn land. But they don’t have swords or knives. They made a covenant that they will keep to the death.
That covenant meant that they were willing to be slaughtered before lifting up their swords again. When war broke out, their sons, who had not made this covenant, went to war so that they could keep their promises to God.
These men had to choose between their covenants with God and letting their sons go to war for them. In their place. Knowing how likely it was that their boys would ever come back.
This would be terrible for any father. A few lines in the scriptures cannot capture what must have been the gut-wrenching, Abrahamic test of a lifetime for them.
They couldn’t change the situation so they did what they could do, what all good fathers do. They provided for their boys. That’s what fathers do.
I wish I could describe the reunion when the fathers came into camp and found their sons. But an artist, not a writer, needs to paint this picture because very little was said and everything is so subtle that it defies description.
These fathers provided critical sustenance to their sons and gave them the physical strength to fight their battles, just as their mothers provided the spiritual strength they needed. It was a less obvious, less visible contribution perhaps. And in a strictly eternal sense, one could even argue that it was minimal. But in that moment, in time, not eternity, when an army was preparing to go to war, they needed that food. The contributions of father and mother compliment and cooperate, they don’t compete.
When we needed her, my mom was an angel to come and help us and I don’t know what we would have done without her. Her sacrifice was large and obvious. But it took me years to realize that there was another angel in the story. Dad also made a profound sacrifice, one that enabled Mom’s. A man wants his wife to be with him when he’s being honored for his life’s work. That’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing my Dad gave up. That’s what fathers do.
A mother’s sacrifices are often obvious and apparent. Her work is difficult but, with all the frustrations inherent in her work, she enjoys a preeminent place in her children’s hearts. Mothers are vital and their love warms our hearts and save our souls. We rightly honor them.
But in the background is the dad. Quietly making his own sacrifices to ensure that everything works out. Dad is the great facilitator, the provider and protector who does whatever it takes to get whatever his family needs. For his daughter to go to college. For his son to go on a mission. He provides the means for them in the here-and-now, sending money for Subway or provisions for young warriors. His solid, stable presence solves problems and fills gaps.
That’s what fathers do.
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