With Father’s Day approaching, I fear things aren’t all that great in the world of fathering.
You might not be old enough to remember, but in the 1950s and ‘60s, fathers carried more respect. Maybe the dads’ segment of the population just had better PR. I recall many of the TV fathers – guys like Robert Young of “Father Knows Best,” Fred MacMurray of “My Three Sons,” Andy Griffith and Bill Cosby on their own shows.
These were solid, stand-up guys. When they spoke, people listened – even their kids. They could solve any problem, tiny or huge, within their 30-minute time slots. As the late Jean Stapleton, who portrayed Edith Bunker on “All in the Family,” used to sing with TV husband (and dad) Archie, “Those were the days.”
The Ozzie Nelsons and Ward Cleavers weren’t perfect, but seemed to love their wives, care for their kids, and approached life with wisdom and common sense.
Compare them to the TV “dads” of today, Homer Simpson of “The Simpsons” probably being the standard bearer. Fathers depicted in popular culture are confused at best, blithering idiots at worst. If they’re present at all. Many shows have eliminated “TV dad.” Moms carry on without them just fine.
Even on my favorite show, “NCIS,” most of the key characters – Gibbs, DiNozzo, Ziva and McGee – have had troubled relationships with dear old dad. And come to think of it, when was the last time you watched a college football game and an athlete on the sidelines turned to the camera and said, “Hi, Dad!”?
As much as I’d like to attribute the current plight of fathers on the media (can’t we blame them for everything?), I don’t think we can. Wounds suffered by members of the once-revered office of fatherhood are largely self-inflicted.
A 2010 government study revealed more than 70 percent of African-American children were born to unwed mothers, and statistics for other races and ethnicities weren’t much better. Apparently, a large proportion of young men believe their “fatherhood” responsibilities begin and end with impregnating young women.
Similarly, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, less than half of custodial mothers got all of the child support they were legally entitled to receive. Many biological fathers seem unbothered about the responsibilities of providing for their offspring’s material needs.
Often, even dads that are at home become too consumed with work – or hobbies – to spend ample, quality time with their children. I’ve been guilty of that myself at times.
As I wrote in an earlier post, I greatly admire mothers and the tremendous job they do in juggling work, household duties, caring for their kids, and somehow trying to still manage some personal time. I don’t know how they do it. But we’re too quick to dismiss the consequences of absent or inattentive fathers.
Men, for the most part, don’t cry much. Maybe we’ve been socialized that way. But I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen men tear up while talking about their dads. As much as “experts” might argue to the contrary, a man’s relationship with his father – or lack of one – is a powerful force in his life. And for many of us, it remains so until we die.
That’s why the Bible’s perspective on fathers speaks so powerfully. It refers to God as our heavenly Father, but perhaps for many having had bad relationships with their earthly fathers, that might not seem helpful. But the apostle Paul takes a positive, affirming stance: “For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God…” (1 Thessalonians 2:11-12).
Elsewhere the apostle points out one of the best ways a father can communicate love for his children: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…. Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 5:25-6:4).
By demonstrating genuine, sacrificial love and commitment to their mother, a father shows his children a love willing to die to self for the benefit of others. And by being patient and compassionate, rather than responding in haste or anger, fathers can set the example of what a godly life should look like.
Women tend to be more naturally relational than men; men tend to focus more on tasks and outcomes. So the business of fathering, for most of us, is hard, arduous work. When you’ve met a work deadline, you simply cross that off your list and move to the next project. But being a father is a job that’s never done – even when the kids move out of the house. When you’re a dad, you can never say, “Well, I’ve finished that,” and check it off the list.
But the effort, if we’re willing to undertake it, is well worth it. If we want to know what kind of legacy we’ll leave after departing from this life, all we need to ask is, “How am I doing as a dad?”
Robert J. Tamasy is a veteran journalist, a former newspaper editor and magazine editor. He is presently vice president of communications for Leaders Legacy, Inc., a non-profit focused on mentoring and coaching business and professional leaders. Bob has written hundreds of magazine articles, and has authored, co-authored and edited more than 15 books. These include “Tufting Legacies,” “The Heart of Mentoring,” “Business at Its Best,” and “Pursuing Life With a Shepherd’s Heart.” He edits a weekly business meditation, “Monday Manna,” which is translated into more than 20 languages and distributed via email around the world by CBMC International. He also posts regularly on two blogs, www.bobtamasy.blogspot.com, and www.bobtamasy.wordpress.com. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.