Years ago, when David Blankenhorn published his eye-opening book, Fatherless America, he lifted the veil on the diminished state of fatherhood in the United States. His findings and insights can easily be applied to the whole Western World.
“Scholars estimate,” he reports, “that before they reach age eighteen, more than half of all children in the nation will live apart from their fathers for at least a significant portion of their childhood.” And also that “Today’s trend toward fatherlessness continues to escalate, is cumulative, and shows no sign of slowing down.”
Students of the subject say that a clear vision of fatherhood has been fading for more than 200 years. Some say the fading started with the dawning of the Industrial Revolution. A father’s work and his family life were increasingly separated and as a result emotional bonds between father and child became weaker.
Traditionally, fathers are to play four roles in their children’s lives. They are to be, (1) irreplaceable caregivers, (2) moral educators, (3) heads of the family, and (4) family breadwinners. Viewing it from a Christian perspective, one might add as a fifth, (5) spiritual guides, or priest of the family.
Given the intensity and duration of the trend away from the view summarized in these five points, it is too much to ask fathers dissatisfied with their current role to re-dream the concept as though it could be restored in one giant step. In getting up to speed, perhaps there needs to be a first and second gear, a third, and only then a high gear. For starters, I suggest the following four questions any concerned father might ponder:
1. Have I had conversations with my wife about what the term fatherhood should mean in our situation? Even though the traditional role as given above may need slight adaptations for Twenty-First Century life, it is a good list to consult for these conversations.
2. Do I cultivate an emotional bond with the family? Do I talk to my children regularly on their level about their concerns? If a nine-year-old son were experiencing bullying on the playground would I become involved with him in seeking a solution? When something is bothering my children, do I notice? If a twelve-year-old daughter is having her first crush on a boy in school, would I have something to say to help her through it wisely?
3. Do my children know my basic convictions about right and wrong? Do they see me as both compassionate and honest? Children absorb their first positive lessons on morality in the home.
4. Do I pray with my family on a regular basis? During family devotions? At table? At bedtime? When serious problems arise? In the Christian family, this responsibility should not be left solely to mother, though for her to do so is better than to neglect prayer in the home altogether.
Pondering these questions and intending to act may not start a national revival to restore fatherhood in the world. But if it should bring significant forward movement for one father that would be worth worlds.
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