Sunday, January 27, 2008

In Defense of Fatherhood

I can see how some fathers feel disenfranchised these days. The industry of fatherhood is no longer as hip as it used to be, and some people even see it as unnecessary. You used to be able to turn on a TV and see Ward Cleaver making the world right after his family had driven things crazy—and all after a day’s work at the office. Today’s popular culture portrays the father as a bumbling, sexist, ignorant slouch, if he’s depicted at all.

I don’t in any way mean to disparage nontraditional families. There are plenty of single mothers that are doing fine. I don’t want to insult you or your partner/co-parent/significant other/poly-amorous spouses or anyone else. But I think that today’s father needs a little boost, a little support, and a lot of encouragement. Fathers should know something: they are important, they matter. Someone needs to tell them so.

Fathers, you matter.

I recently took an unscientific poll of my freshman college students. I found that over half of my students grew up in a home away from their fathers. And almost a third of those had never met their father or only met him a handful of times. It’s a frightening thing for someone like me to imagine, who grew up with their father and still thinks the world of him.

Children learn by example. Do what you will with discipline, or with talking sense to kids, but they learn more by watching you than any other time. What a child sees and absorbs is something more than an adult could ever understand.

My oldest daughter, Solstice, is always surprising me. She’s a year and a half old and could run the entire household if she were adult-sized. The other day she picked up her newborn sister’s set of plastic keys. Without a moment’s hesitation, she headed to the front door to try to put a key in the keyhole. When one didn’t fit, she moved on to the next. It turned out that none of them worked for our house—thankfully—but that wasn’t her point.

When we had our second daughter, Solstice took on a wonderful parenting role. Her baby, Hanna, is a Cabbage Patch Kid. Hanna has the very same upbringing as our youngest daughter. Whenever I set up to change our baby’s diaper, Solstice takes the changing pad right out from under her sister and puts it to more urgent use; changing Hanna’s diaper. Hanna is also breastfed. She has her own car seat, which Solstice can all but install herself. That little Cabbage Patch Kid is going to be something someday.

My point is that children watch every move we make, all day long. I never had any doubt that I would be a good father because I had the very best example one could ask for. When I see that my job isn’t making enough money to support us, I do what I saw my dad did: I take on extra work. I know how to play with my children. I know how to tease them. At the end of a long day’s work at the office, I can come home and make the world right again, if my girls have scrambled things up a little.

But the benefits of a good father don’t end there. I know that my little sisters, growing up as I did, know what a good father should be like. They know how a man should treat his wife and his kids. When they decide to get married—if they decide to go the traditional route—they will know exactly what qualities to look for in a husband and father of their children. It’s a no-brainer. A good father figure is burned into every fabric of their being, just as it is in mine.

It doesn’t mean that I won’t mess up as a father. But I certainly have a good leg up on my much of today’s youth who never met their fathers. So no matter how much society would like to marginalize the role of fatherhood, no matter how much you feel like your part is finished with conception, remember that you are important too. Give a gift to your children, and your children’s children. Embrace your role as father. Be proud of it.

Back to the Carnival of Breastfeeding.


Conni Tögel said...

How true - now, if only the fathers in this hemisphere could put down their remote controls and their laptop computers long enough to actually realize that those occasional interruptions on two legs need them, the world really would be a better place.
Many don't know what they are missing, nor do they know the effects of ignoring their kids and paying attention to a screen instead will have on their children.
Where did all the real dads go? Someone abducted them - we need them back!

joshua said...

I am new to your blog. My wife and I are having our first child next month, a boy. keep up the good work :)