As both a calling and a developed skill, has fatherhood lost its nobility in society generally? Or is fatherhood doing reasonably well and complaints to the contrary are contradicted by the facts? The answer is somewhere between, but leaning toward the gloomier side.
Consider this prophetic statement by David Blankenhorn, in his book Fatherless America (1995): “The good news, largely ignored in today’s script, is that married fatherhood is a man’s most important pathway to happiness.” Blankenhorn makes this claim even though in his book he portrays an American culture in which fatherhood is not seen as a widespread blessing.
He writes that over the past two hundred years, fatherhood has lost, in full or in part, each of its four traditional roles:
1. Irreplaceable caregiver. 2. Moral educator. 3. Head of family, and, 4. Family breadwinner (with the understanding that sometimes this role has to be shared or reversed).
Blankenhorn writes, “In 1990 more than 30 percent of all children [in the United States] were living apart from their fathers – more than double the rate of 1960.” He goes on to say, “Scholars estimate 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.”
But that is only one side of the picture. The late esteemed newsman, Tim Russert, wrote a warm, affirming book about his father. It so moved his readership that it brought Russert nearly 60,000 letters and e-mails. Day after day he read them to the very last one and out of them came his second book, Wisdom Of Our Fathers, Lessons and Letters From Daughters and Sons.
The missives he received were overwhelmingly, though not entirely, positive. They described fathers who had been there for their children, had taken time for a bedside story, turned up at a spelling bee, played catch with them in the yard, and at times of need had given them good counsel.
They were not super-dads. The letters from grown children, according to Russert, admit there were flaws. But the commitment of which the children wrote was such that it has left an enduring imprint on their children’s memories.
Now a new e-book, The Demise of Guys, available on Amazon.com, addresses the picture more darkly. It speaks with insight of the malaise among the general population of young men today. The book notes quite broadly a lack of energy among young men to make full preparation for a full life, the lack of interest in developing long-term relationships with women, certainly lack of motivation to get out on their own and make their own way in life. This phenomenon is obvious enough that it keeps coming up in other social opinions spoken or printed.
The author of The Demise of Guys traces the causes that he believes have contributed to this state of affairs – such as excessive time spent during developing days on the internet, video games and especially the hurtful, pervasive influence of pornography. He explains the effect these addictions have on the brain to deaden the pleasure zones and motivations for a fulfilling life.
The celebration of Father’s Day this June 17 brings this conflicted issue of fatherhood back into focus. It would be a good Sunday on which to look at the two contrasted above pictures of fatherhood.
It would be a good Sunday for Christians everywhere to gather and pray unitedly for the fathers in their connections. And it could be made a time for fathers themselves to ask their HEAVENLY FATHER to father them afresh, giving grace to embrace their four assignments — Irreplaceable caregiver, moral educator, head of family, and family breadwinner (noting that this role must sometimes be shared or reversed) — with divinely endowed courage.