Thursday, June 18, 2020

In Appreciation to All the Fathers Who Are Present

Here we are, approaching another parental holiday that’s almost an afterthought with all the headlines screaming at us. Mother’s Day was overshadowed by the pandemic crisis and restrictions, and as I write this, rioters and terrorists (I don’t think you can regard them as anything but that) have turned justifiable, peaceful protests into all manner of mayhem. So, Father’s Day will probably sneak up on folks without the usual commercial fanfare.

But I for one don’t want to forget fathers, or to neglect giving mention to the priceless contributions many of them make, not only for their children but also on society as a whole.

There’s a very sad note to this observance, however. Thousands upon thousands of young people are growing up without the joy and privilege of knowing their biological fathers, whether because they refused to accept responsibility for them, abandoned their families, or just have chosen not to be actively involved in their children’s lives. It’s reported that in the 1960s, for example, the father was present in 75 percent of African-American homes. Today, that number is about 25 percent, making father-absence one of the greatest problems facing the black community.

My dad, circa 1970.
Another discouraging aspect is how the value of the father has been diminished by our society over the years. On TV and movies, sitcoms and dramas portray women doing perfectly fine in raising their children without the husband/father present, or if there is a father, he’s typically depicted as a buffoon, weak, or both. Single moms are celebrated. But how about fathers? Who needs a dad, right?

Yet, often-ignored statistics show otherwise. Numerous scholarly studies have shown father absence, regardless of race, often has negative consequences on adolescent development. These include lower self-esteem; engaging in sexual activity at an earlier age; more behavioral problems; lower academic achievement; poorer psychological well-being; more likelihood of being raised in poverty; greater risk of alcohol and chemical dependency, and increased likelihood of criminal activity – and imprisonment.

This by no means devalues or undervalues the oft-heroic efforts of single mothers. One person trying to do parental work that God designed for two is incredibly difficult. Kudos to all who attempt to do what often might feel like mission impossible. As Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 says so clearly, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their works. If one falls down, his friend can help him up….”

In Genesis 2:18, after God created the universe, the earth, and the first man, He determined, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” And while it does not say so explicitly, it could be inferred that He also meant it is not good for the woman to be alone – especially when trying to handle the challenges of raising children.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, if you ever want to draw emotion out of a man – even tears – just ask him to tell you about his father. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve witnessed men weep as they talked about their dads, whether circumstances with them were good, terrible, or somewhere in between.

This is as God intended for it to be, I’m convinced. Fathers should be a necessary part of the equation, even though it’s not politically correct to make that assertion. Not that fathers are perfect. I certainly haven’t been anywhere near perfect with our children, although I do believe I was doing the best I knew to do at the time. And I’m still trying to do the best I can with my grown children and now, our grandchildren.

Guys love their moms. They’re the ones who make home “home.” But there’s nothing to compare with the loving, masculine bond forged between a father and son that many men have been privileged to enjoy. For those fellows, losing their dad to death is like losing a part of their physical selves. It seems like a bottomless void that can never be filled – at least this side of eternity.

My dad certainly wasn’t perfect. I wish he had been more relational, more patient with me, more of a person that I could go to for a good ole man-to-man conversation. But he was a product of his generation, and he too, I’m sure, was doing the best he knew to do at the time. And as I think of “father,” I can’t help but remember my Uncle Joe, who became like a second father to me, providing much love, a positive example, and encouragement during my first year in college, and later while I was in Houston, Texas working to advance my career as a journalist.

In the Scriptures, we see numerous examples of mothers going to bat for their sons – Rebecca, Rachel, Sarah, and Jesus’ earthly mom, Mary, among them. But God gave the primary responsibility for leading and teaching children to the father. In Deuteronomy 6:6-7, the Lord commands, “These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”

After the apostle Paul reminds children of God’s exhortation, “’Honor your father and mother’ – which is the first commandment with a promise, ‘that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on earth’” (Ephesians 6:2-3), in the very next verse his focus shifts: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children, instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). This doesn’t mean moms shouldn’t be involved as well, but the apostle directs this mandate to the fathers. Maybe it’s because we’re not smart enough to figure it out without very specific instructions, I don’t know.

All this to say, I hope on this Father’s Day – despite the societal turmoil and distractions – that dads everywhere receive the respect and recognition they deserve. It’s a tough job. Most of us have to learn some hard lessons as we go. And let’s face it, most moms have a nine-month head start in parenting, carrying the little folks in their wombs. 

So if you’re a dad reading this, happy Father’s Day! Should you find yourself struggling in your role from time to time, take heart. You’re not alone. Let’s all seek the wisdom, experience and encouragement of one another. And of the Lord. Not one of us is as smart – or wise – as all of us together!

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