Earth to Dad…did you get the message? That’s okay, here’s a backup…
On Father’s Day weekend in America, I couldn’t sign onto Facebook without an onslaught of the vast majority of postings from my ‘Friend’ world displaying a changed profile or timeline picture of their fathers, or them with their fathers. And in some cases, it was accompanied by stories about their fathers.
This is important. Men have been marginalized and trivialized and rendered irrelevant and worse, as in part of the problem of society. But it’s quite the opposite. A society of fatherless homes and children who grow up without the influence of a father deeply impacts society. For the worse.
There were many tributes to fatherhood over the holiday celebrated in America. But some contained within then’ the seeds of the future of the world’, as Josef Ratzinger put it many years ago.
Not one of us has been born without a biological father, and I knew that I was about to become one. I had as much certitude about this as I had that England was an island. But what I was not certain about, nor prepared for, was what came next. Suddenly, it was not an idea, or a sonogram, or a heartbeat, or even the feel of a foot pushing against the soft pulled flesh of his mother. Suddenly, the lightning fast presence of a beautifully formed human being was before me; not as a category, or an idea, or a possibility, but as a person whose presence poured over me. It was like the dawning of a new horizon, or a new aspect of the horizon I had always known, but not understood…
I can remember the exact moment when that distinction became evident to me. When we were preparing for the birth of our son, at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge, England, I did not doubt that the child being born was my own. Not one of us has been born without a biological father, and I knew that I was about to become one. I had as much certitude about this as I had that England was an island. But what I was not certain about, nor prepared for, was what came next. Suddenly, it was not an idea, or a sonogram, or a heartbeat, or even the feel of a foot pushing against the soft pulled flesh of his mother. Suddenly, the lightning fast presence of a beautifully formed human being was before me; not as a category, or an idea, or a possibility, but as a person whose presence poured over me. It was like the dawning of a new horizon, or a new aspect of the horizon I had always known, but not understood…
His eyes were wide open, and if he could see, I believe that my face was the first one he saw in this ebullient and miraculous world. At that moment, the midwives asked me to cut the cord. I declined not because I was squeamish, but because I was now in awe of something more ontologically present to me: my son.
They cut the cord, swaddled him, and settled him into my arms. I had seen illuminated on the big screen all those stock birthing room scenes, so I was reasonably certain that they would put him into his mother’s arms, at least initially. I thought there would be some continuation of the distance, that the hidden nature of my biological fatherhood would be extendable by the more obvious physical bond to his mother. But there was no differential, no slow transition, no easing into it. All of the sudden, something like an ontological conversion had taken place in a flash. I spontaneously began to sing a nursery tune that I remembered my grandfather singing. He was a revelation to me. A potency hidden in biology, a possibility, an idea, was now actually personal and real.
It is a story that my wife likes to recount partly because the singing itself was a sign of the joy we both felt, but it was also a sign that something had been born in me too. The singing was the sign that I was not only a biological father, but that I had become an ontological father as well. This had changed not my nature but who I was as a person. Suddenly I was not merely an external cause of the goodness of this life, but had entered into communion with him, and this revealed to me that fatherhood was not simply something that could be given, but also something to be received from another.
Then there was this message from a young mother.
When I first met my then boyfriend, Tyler, he was basically a kid. Tyler avoided responsibilities; he didn’t have a care in the world other than his own enjoyment. Tyler was careless and care-free because he could be. His life was a downward spiral, but he didn’t care—he was unstoppable.
Then I got pregnant.
You’ve got to read the rest for yourself. It’s a journey of discovery.
Becoming a father transformed Tyler the kid into Tyler the responsible man—from a person who didn’t care, to a caring person. Tyler came to understand that the way he was living before wasn’t living—it was existing. Now he strives to always do better for the sake of his family.
Fathers make a huge difference in their families. Tod Worner devoted this post to that fact.
In the last several years, there has been a debate (I would not say a robust debate) about whether or not fathers matter. The discussion seems to center around whether a household run by a single mother or grandparent or other alternative fatherless households can provide the same (or superior) child-rearing environment. The answer, it seems, is a foregone conclusion. “Of course”, it is answered. “How could you suggest otherwise?”, it is asked. And then the litany of abuses or errors that fathers have brought to their children’s lives is listed soon followed by the not subtle insinuation that it is bigotry to suggest otherwise. Thus, it would seem, endeth the debate.
Now, on this Father’s Day, I only want to offer three insights regarding this debate. First, there are plenty of extraordinary families that don’t have a father involved. Second, there are a number of fathers who have done terrible things to their children and are rightfully considered abominable. And third (and perhaps most importantly), quite simply, fathers matter.
Read the whole post, it matters to facilitate this discussion of fatherhood.
But my father – the product of an alcoholic upbringing – never missed one of my football games, baseball games, plays, choir concerts, solos, speeches or history presentations. Incredibly busy, he never flaunted what he did for me. He simply showed up, told me he loved me and how proud he was of me…
My dad taught me to pray, read me stories from the Bible and modeled a steady devotion not only to attending church, but giving the church time and treasure. He taught me how to engage in conversation, look a person in the eye and offer a firm handshake. He mentored me about character, virtue and truth. When I have gone through dark times in my life, he not only listens, but is one of the few people – ever – to give me consistently good advice. And, do you know what? I have never, ever, ever had the impression that my dad thought I was wasting his time (even when I knew he didn’t have much time to give). This is my dad. My friend, my counselor, my mentor, my hero.
Now…let us return to the original debate about whether or not fathers matter. And let me simply say this: Thank you for offering me statistics. I appreciate you providing expert psychological and sociological opinion. It is kind that you thoughtfully construct a point-by-point analysis and share this with me on this issue of great importance.
But I don’t need it.
I already know the answer. How do I know?
Because fathers matter, he realizes.