Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Nurturing Fathers

Father’s Day, as you know, will be celebrated this Sunday, June 19.
For maybe understandable reasons, Father’s Day is not nearly as popular as Mother’s Day, and its observance is much more recent. It was not until 1966 that President Johnson issued the first presidential proclamation honoring fathers, designating the third Sunday in June as Father’s Day. It was six years later that President Nixon signed it into law as a permanent national observance.
In this country Father’s Day was first proposed in 1910, but in the early years, even in the 1920s, there was sometimes laughter when observance of such a day was mentioned. There were several reasons for such a response, but one seems to have been that many fathers were not highly involved in the nurture of their children.
Those who raise cattle or horses are well acquainted with the importance of having a good sire for their calves or colts. For good offspring, they know there must be a good bull (or “he cow” as June’s neighbor used to say) or stallion (studhorse).
In registering animals, information about the sire is listed. But the sire is not usually referred to as the father. According to the dictionary, a father is “a man who has begotten a child.” And it is generally assumed that such a man, along with the child’s mother, has the responsibility for the physical, psychological, and spiritual well-being of the child.
Unfortunately, it seems that many men today have become sires, but not fathers in the full sense of the word.
Former Reagan Education Secretary William J. Bennett was one of the speakers I heard at the conference I wrote about on June 5. He talked about “the man problem in American society,” and he lamented, “Men are not marrying, not making the commitments in the way they used to.”
Later this year Bennett’s new 560-page book, The Book of Man: Who Are Men, What Should Men Be, What Should Men Do? will be published. In it I hope he deals helpfully with the importance of men being good fathers. (I will likely disagree with some of his conservative ideas about the relationship of men and women, though.)
The country needs men who will make commitments to help rear children, beginning with the ones they sire. The number of unwed mothers in the U.S. has risen dramatically in recent decades. Nationwide, now more than 40% of the children born have an unwed mother. Some of these, thankfully, do have a father who helps with the demanding task of rearing them. Sadly, many don’t.
You fathers who read this likely have been, and are, good, nurturing fathers, that is, fathers who nurture your children physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
But all of us, men and women alike, probably need to do more to nurture the young men around us toward becoming more responsible fathers. Unfortunately, in American society now there are too many men who are just sires, not fathers in the true sense of the word.


  1. Hear, hear!!

    This topic has long been a passion of mine. America, by and large, has forgotten the tribal concept of raising boys intentionally to be men.
    (The same concept is true of American girls, I believe.) My wife and I have tried to intentionally raise our children to release them as adults prepared for life - according to a plan.

    I am not sure the Church grasps this idea. This should be a key focus of the Church supporting and encouraging sacramental relationships. (Ritual observances are very good, but only in the context of relationship.)

    But there must be intentional support from the family and community at-large as well with a vision and definition of manhood and womanhood in mind.

    The saddest related story, which I heard several years back, was of an 18 year old high school boy from south Chicago boast that he was the father of 24 children by 18 girls. That is just studship since he will never be able to support or raise his offspring. It is sad that one organization's early plan for making targeted geldings would be considered a viable response.

    My favorite memories with my father were of getting up a creek with him, and wondering how we would get back down.

    Happy Father's day to those men with children, especially those who have intentionally raised the them to leave a good legacy.

  2. This morning I was happy to receive the following e-mail from Heather, a Thinking Friend who is the mother of two preteen boys, and I post this with her permission.

    "I enjoyed this week's blog post, and would like you to consider a followup for those of us with sons; what can we do as parents or other adults to nurture the boys around us?

    "I, too have long noticed the discrepancies between what is expected of girls and of boys with regard to responsible behavior - either before or after their unplanned children are conceived.

    "I still think about what kind of charitable foundation I can establish to support and educate girls. But in the meantime, what strategies best illustrate to our boys how to approach their relationships with girls?

    "Boys have no idea what they're in for when they start relationships with girls! Rare is the girl who does not come to a relationship without baggage, whether it's low self esteem, "daddy" issues, or simply the proclivity toward writing angst-filled teenage poetry. Are 13-25 year old boys equipped to consider such obstacles?

    "Anyway, I think it deserves more exploration, this idea that we can do more to educate our boys so they are prepared to be dads, and not just sires.

    "Thanks for your thought-provoking essay today! Have a good day.

    "PS: I am going to try really hard to use 'he-cow' in a sentence today."

  3. Marriage needs support, not lectures. For the rich, marriage is more successful than ever. For the poor, it is a disaster area. For the middle class, it is under serious pressure. Our polarized American culture is increasingly toxic to marriage for much of society. As Liza Doolittle's father observed in the musical My Fair Lady, it takes money to be moral. As soon as he gets some, his girl wants to marry him, and he is left singing, Get Me to the Church on Time.

    Poverty, like love, can be a many-splendored thing. Well, 'splendored' is obviously not quite the right word, but it hints at something very important. As part of being on a church committee, I recently read "When Helping Hurts" by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert. They point out that where poverty is a lack of knowledge, education is needed; where it is oppression by powerful people, social justice is needed; where it is personal sin, evangelism and discipleship are needed; and for a lack of material resources, the poor need material resources. Now marriage really is a many-splendored thing, and lifting up marriage is much like lifting up the poor; indeed, it often is the very same thing.

    One special problem of the poor is shame. Shame can be very crippling and destructive. The last thing the poor need is more shame piled upon them. Unfortunately, that is often exactly what happens. Jesus is famous for bringing us "good news." Yet, somehow, we often translate the good news into bad news. Now, this is not to give a program for improving marriage, except to say, we need to study carefully and holistically what leads to successful marriage.

    For those of us blessed with reasonably successful families, Father's Day can be a cherry on top of the ice cream sundae of life. Yet, just as there are support groups to help the suffering get through Christmas, I am sure it is a hard time for many families. We still, appropriately, I believe, celebrate Christmas, and so should we celebrate Father's Day. As both a father and a son I rejoice in the extraordinary gift of life, even as I recognize that for many it is but a dream, or even a mirage. There is an ideal out there to honor, even as we know that none of fully achieve it.