It is Father’s Day, today.
Often times in the culture wars, we get caught up in the argument between masculinity and toxic masculinity, with one side of the political aisle saying that certain, stereotypical traits of maleness are in fact good while the other side says it’s largely patriarchal oppression. What gets caught in the crossfire, oftentimes, is the concept of fatherhood, which is as vital to the success of a family as motherhood.
Motherhood is sacred and cherished in our culture. The importance of the idea of Mom is historically portrayed in folklore and literature as the key to life as we know it, central to the success of the child. Behind every successful man in literature, there is more often than not a woman responsible.
Take Jesus for example. His mother, Mary, wasn’t forced to bear the Son of God. She accepted the request. It is she who unveiled the power of Jesus by telling him to fix the problem at the wedding at Cana. Her role throughout the life of Jesus was so vital that it could not be ignored when his life was written about and spoken of in an era where women were often ignored and held no true power.
Now it’s at this point in the column where certain people will roll their eyes, sigh, and say “Oh here he goes, whining about how unfairly men are treated.” But, it’s not that at all. I don’t think men are treated unfairly. While I do think there is a movement to minimize the role of men – and fathers in particular – in our culture and society, I find it difficult to imagine that movement ever being truly successful.
And here’s why.
Fatherhood is not about being the man in the family. It’s not about bringing masculinity into the home, or being the primary bread-winner, or anything like that. There are successful homes without male “fathers,” just as there are successful homes without female “mothers.” There are children who, through no fault of their own, have to grow up in a single parent home. There are some who grow up in a same-sex parent home.
You can recite all the statistics you want about how the traditional family creates the most stability, but that is a study of theory, whereas more and more we have to look at the objective reality. And the reality is that there are single-parent or same-sex parent homes, and not all of them churn out terrible kids. Meanwhile, you do have some traditional parent homes that do.
By this point I may have lost all of my audience, because now people will be claiming I’m going off on some social justice tangent. Oh well.
Anyway, it all bears the question: What makes a father a father?
Is it a penis? Is it masculinity? Is it being the dad who tells every boy “If you hurt her, I’ll break you”?
No, although that last part is totally me (I’m a father of two and both are girls). Rather, fatherhood is the relationship between the father and child, and it’s a relationship you can’t raise a child without.
Part of that is the life coach relationship. You had those moments growing up, maybe when you were in the car with Dad, playing catch, or doing some other activity, and you and him were talking. Inevitably, the talk turns to something that ends with a moral or a lesson. In my family, we always joke about those “life lesson” chats (and by joke, I mean we tease our dad and grandfather about it).
Likewise, your father is someone you look up to as an example of what to be – not in terms of career, but in terms of character. You think of your father as someone whose faults were vastly outweighed by the inherent goodness in him, the inherent rightness. It felt right to be with him and to want to be like him. It is like a beacon that attracts you on a spiritual level, calling you to come into the light and be transformed into that kind of person.
Many of you can read this and thing “My dad was never like that.” Maybe because your dad was never around, or he had some flaw that kept him from being that type of dad.
But I know, as a teacher who has interacted with a lot of students, that there is someone in everyone’s life who plays that role. In single-parent homes, it is that parent wearing both Mom’s and Dad’s hat. In other cases, it may be an uncle, grandparent, or close family friend. In same-sex homes, one or both parents can fill that role. Even in the traditional home, you’ll find that the maternal role of nurturer and paternal role of moral beacon can be shared or flipped.
But, today is Father’s Day. It’s the day where we honor that role. We look to our moral guide, our first life coach, that beacon we yearn on some level to be. So, today, honor that role.
But, if you are the father in your family, make sure you live that role. There are far too many children in the world who don’t have that person in their lives, and that’s where a lot of our societal problems do come into play. It’s not masculinity or lack thereof, but the lack of fatherhood that is crushing our culture.