Father’s Day matters because Fathers matter
This past Sunday was the official Father’s Day, a celebration honoring fatherhood, paternal bonds, and the influence of fathers in society.
Father’s Day started as a Catholic tradition as the Feast of Saint Joseph, celebrated on March 19th. It was brought to the Americas by the Spanish and Portuguese, perhaps an overlooked advantage of multi-culturalism.
The roots of a national holiday were started in the early 20th century. President Woodrow Wilson wanted to create an official holiday, but (in what now seems like a perceptive notion) Congress feared that it would become commercialized. However, I find it amusing that the same Washington bureaucrats who rejected Father’s Day in 1916, were the same ones that had created Mother’s Day in 1914. This “sexism” persisted for over fifty years until 1972 when President Nixon signed legislation making the 3rd Sunday in June the officially recognized holiday.
Much has changed since those times and our family structure in this country is not as coherent as it once was. The nuclear family now represents only 66 percent of households in the US, down from 81 percent in 1970.
America is becoming a “fatherless” society or at least a culture in which the father is, often as not, absent. Over 25 percent of all households are now headed by single mothers. Approximately 30% of all American children are now being born into single-parent homes, and for some minority communities, the figure is more than twice that.
What has happened to the dads?
It would be easy to blame the shift on societal evolution. Industrialization moved people from a family-based agrarian system to an urban work environment of disengagement and psychological separation at home. Fathers could simply not be in both places at once.
This matches my recollection of my father during my youth. He was the disciplinarian; remote, strict and often absent. Men of that generation were principally providers; mom raised the kids. Dad set the rules, arbitrated disputes (inevitably in his favor), and doled out punishment.
I know my father loved us, but he was not really approachable. You did not talk to him about your fears or feelings. That usually led to a “man-up” speech. Mom was always the one you went to for sympathy and solace.
I wanted it to be different with my kids. I tried to be an involved father. I went to their field days, concerts and programs. I coached their teams. I drove all over the Southeast taking them to tournaments. After their graduations, I moved them from place to place. If they needed me, I cleared the schedule to be there.
However, the male head of household has been put in a difficult position these days. It seems very easy to get cross-ways to someone in the family. Gender roles seem to work on a sliding scale, for which there is no manual.
What happens in a society when the lines of not just roles, but of physiological and psychological distinction blur? Do you actually need a biological male (father), or for that matter, a female (mother) as a contributing member in a family unit? Do you just need two people “filling” those roles? Does it matter?
Yes, it does matter.
Fatherless children are at dramatically higher risk of drug and alcohol abuse, teenage pregnancy and criminality. Over seventy percent of high school dropouts come from fatherless homes and over half of children living with single mothers are in poverty.
Any man can father a child, but being there as a dad is very challenging. Yet, of all the things I have done in life, being a father stands above all others. I would not trade a single moment I have with my children for anything or anyone else.
I suppose all children live in the shadow of their father, but that is exactly the point…to leave a shadow. Our children are quite literally our legacy. What could be more important than what we do to prepare them for the world?
A belated thank you to all the fathers out there. And, a hope that those who have not been a part of their children’s lives will have a change of heart. Finally, a special prayers for those who are no longer with us. They remain embedded in our hearts.