Rodney Dangerfield once lamented, “I was so ugly, my father carried around a picture of the kid who came with his wallet.”
My dad, too, carried with him a lot of acerbic wit, and we often couldn’t tell if he was serious or not.
I will never forget the feeling we had when he got home from work each day. As kids, we were excited by his arrival but also knew that rules definitely were in strict order when he walked through the door.
Call it child abuse, but we were not allowed to talk over him. When he spoke, it meant he actually had something to say and that we had better listen up.
Fathers are like that. They show their love and strength largely through action, but when they do have something to say, it’s usually memorable and with fewer words spoken and deliberate forethought.
Thankfully, I grew up in a era when men were not chastised for being too manly or strong. Too many children today miss out on the invaluable experience of loving, strong fathers who don’t feel the need to apologize for being male, and all of the characteristics that come along with being so.
Some of these traits are wonderful, some not so, but most are necessary for becoming healthy, balanced and mature children and adults.
The politically correct modern notion is that as long as a child seems loved and cared for, it doesn’t matter who they are raised or nurtured by.
And of course, if there’s no father, any loving parent is adequate.
But even famed feminist Gloria Steinem once said:
“American children suffer too much mother and too little father.”
As children, we often don’t realize the important roles that fathers play in our lives because they stay in the background more than our mothers, although they often give a generation much of its strength, character and resilience through their actions, rather than words.
Mark Twain said:
“When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.”
No doubt our appreciation of fathers can take a while to ferment; as they are more pragmatic and less vocal about how they feel about us, and as children we often mistake them for being not as loving as our mothers, with few “I Love You’s” spoken, but a lot of loving actions continually played.
This article in no way suggests that millions of single mothers, aunts, grandmothers and other female caregivers have not done amazing jobs in raising beautiful, strong boys into men, and with little help.
Furthermore, most women who raise boys alone do so not by choice but because of economic disparity or because husbands, boyfriends or mere sperm donors have walked out on them with no support.
But for those of us who were are are fortunate to have had decent fathers around, our lives are undoubtedly shaped in ways that are at once both indescribable and invaluable.
It is indeed this pragmatism that dads have that is so necessary for both boys and girls to grow up healthy, balanced and strong. Fathers often encourage us to try something new, even when some moms warn we might get hurt emotionally or physically. It is that perfect mix of caution and grit we need in order to become well balanced adults.
Fathers usually encourage us to take the training wheels off our bicycles as well as applying for that job we never think we could get. And when we fall off our bicycles and don’t get that dream job; a simple pat answer of “You’ll ace it next time, kid” is just what we need to hear.
It’s also often our fathers we turn to for that extra emotional support we might need in a non-emotional fashion, assuring us things will work themselves out in the end with hard work, determination and chutzpah.
“My father used to play with my brother and me in the yard,” said baseball player Harmon Killebrew. “Mother would come out and say, ‘You’re tearing up grass.’ ‘We’re not raising grass,’ Dad would reply. ‘We’re raising boys.'”
For some fairness and historical perspective, if one were to do their research, as in all statistics, the good, the bad and the ugly can be found quite easily to prove just about any point.
For example, here’s a list of fatherless men who grew up infamous in the worst sense of the word: Adolph Hitler, Saddam Hussein, Charles Manson, John Wilkes Booth, Jack the Ripper, Billy the Kid and Lee Harvey Oswald.
On the other hand, the following is a list of fatherless men who grew up to be prolific leaders and thinkers: Thomas Jefferson, Mark Twain, Aristotle, General Robert E Lee, William Jefferson Clinton, President Barack Obama, George Washington and Leonardo Da Vinci.
I have to admit I was a little scared of my dad growing up when he got angry. Although he was inspiring, funny, and smart and seemed larger than life, when he got mad at us we knew he must have a reason and we always listened. These moments taught us a lot.
Comedian and father Bill Cosby said:
“Always end the name of your child with a vowel, so that when you yell, the name will carry.”
On a more serious note, Cosby would be the first to admit that growing up without a father is no laughing matter.
A recent poll shows that more than 70 percent of the U.S. population thinks the most significant social problem in this country is that so many children grow up without fathers.
“A house without a father is a challenge,” writes Cosby in his book Fatherless Children.
“A neighborhood without fathers is a catastrophe, and that’s just about what we have today… Why is the problem so grave? A mother can usually teach a daughter how to be a woman. But as much as mothers love their sons, they have difficulty showing a son how to be a man… We can’t speak honestly of black culture in America unless and until we honestly address the issue of the estrangement of fathers and their children.”
And statistics for both boys and girls prove this theory to be more fact than conjecture. For example, an adolescent white female growing up in an advantaged background is five times more likely to become a teen mother if she grows up without a father in the home.
The picture is even grimmer for boys who grow up without dads present in the home. Psychiatrists say that many fatherless boys are motivated by “displaced anger.”
According to The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and The National Center for Health Statistics, fatherless children are at a dramatically greater risk of drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness, suicide, poor educational performance, teen pregnancy and criminality.
And in a study conducted by The Consortium for the Study of School Needs of Children from One Parent Families, children with fathers at home tend to do better in school, are less prone to depression and are more successful in relationships. Children from one-parent families achieve less and get into trouble more than children from two parent families.
Nearly 80 percent of all rapists are reported to have grown up in fatherless homes. For both boys and girls, 90 percent of all homeless and runaway children are from fatherless homes as well as 75 percent of all adolescent patients in chemical abuse centers from homes without fathers.
Sigmund Freud wrote:
“I cannot think of any need in childhood as strong as the need for a father’s protection.”
Now that we are all sobered about these figures—the good news is that fathers are beginning to get a better rap on a lot of fronts. The pendulum of public opinion is starting swing as well as rid a culture that suggests fathers are unimportant and valueless, which will prove valuable to the next generation of would-be fathers, mothers and their children.
The politically incorrect notion that men don’t matter in children’s lives is beginning to be said out loud without much argument from either the pop-psyche culture and from those who claim that dads matter little in the lives of children.
Similarly, the idea that men can only be “good fathers” if they act like women is also looked on as preposterous and counterproductive.
The view that a strong male influence can be easily displaced or replaced is fortunately losing its ground with more women and men realizing the profundity of fathers as role models and teachers for all children and for the betterment of communities and society as a whole.
The worst that can happen as we wake up from years of emasculating and ignoring the male father role as integral and necessary is that more children will one day be wishing their own dads a “Happy Fathers Day” throughout their childhood years and beyond.
United States Department of Health and Human Services: “Promoting Responsible Fatherhood“
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Ed: Lynn Hasselberger