Sunday is Father’s Day.
For me, it is a day to reflect with profound gratitude on the loving, nurturing model of fatherhood that our dad provided, before he was taken from us much too soon more than 50 years ago; and to contrast that, sadly, with the devastation suffered today by so many young people deprived of a fatherly presence in their lives.
A quarter-century ago, David Blankenhorn wrote in “Fatherless America” that “Tonight, about 40 percent of American children will go to sleep in homes in which their fathers do not live.”
While specific data is elusive, it is doubtful the situation has improved since then. According to the National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse, “more than one in four fathers live apart from their children.” Considering that many of these fathers have multiple children (we’re always reading about sports stars who have five or six kids by almost as many different women), the percentage of children without their father in the home is surely well above one in four. And while the Census Bureau in 2020 found that about 30 percent of children do not live in a two-parent home, they include many varied arrangements among the 70 percent who do: i.e., children living with relatives, with foster families, with their mother and a stepfather or boyfriend.
To be sure, many such surrogate fathers are loving and caring—although research shows that children living with non-relative men, especially mothers’ boyfriends, are at greatest risk of being abused.
Of course, some biological fathers (and mothers) abuse their children. But overall, a loving home with two biological parents remains, by far, the safest environment for children.
And numerous studies affirm a demonstrable correlation between fatherlessness and a range of pathologies afflicting America’s youth: homelessness and runaways, school dropouts, substance abusers, perpetrators and victims of sexual abuse, suicides, young people in juvenile detention or prison.
Of course, some fatherless homes result from illness or untimely death; others from unavoidable obligations, like military deployment. But today, too many fathers simply choose not to be with their children. Or the children’s mother does not want the father present, often with good reason: the father is abusive; he is unfaithful; or he is irresponsible or involved in criminal activity.
Other times, the mother’s choice is less justifiable: as when she has been unfaithful and wants the children’s father out of the home so she can take in her new love interest; or when she is adhering to the secular feminist creed that “Women don’t need a man in their lives”—blithely ignoring the indisputable fact that children do.
This is not to disparage the many single mothers who devote themselves to the love and care of their children in the father’s absence.
We honor these heroic moms; and on Father’s Day we also honor single fathers, fewer in number but just as heroic, who also devote their lives to loving and nurturing their children.
Indeed, on Father’s Day we honor all men who accept their responsibilities as fathers—out of a sense of duty, perhaps, but more so because of their unconditional love for their children.
These are the fathers who go to work every day to support their families; who come home at night and focus on their children, helping them with schoolwork, attending their activities, playing with them, teaching and encouraging them, making them feel loved and protected. These are the men who sacrifice their own leisure time to do things with their children—or do so because it is not a sacrifice, but a joy to spend time with their children.
I remember once, after our annual two-week summer family vacation, our dad telling us that one of his co-workers had asked, “How can you have a vacation with the kids along?” My dad’s response: “To me, it wouldn’t be a vacation without the kids.” His life was centered on his family—as it should be for all fathers, but too often is not.
In an old episode of M*A*S*H, Major Winchester contrasts his father’s distance from his children with Hawkeye Pierce’s close relationship with his father. “My father’s a good man,” Winchester tells Pierce; “but, where I have a father, you have a dad.”
That’s what we had: a dad, who with our mom provided a home filled with love and nurturing; and who gave us a model of what a dad should be.
I believe that model of fatherhood was his greatest gift to his children, especially his two sons. And, because he taught my brother and me, by example, how to be good dads, that model was also his greatest gift to our children, the grandchildren he never knew.
Happy Father’s Day, to all the loving dads who make their children’s lives special, and the world a better place.
For three decades, Rick Hinshaw has given voice to faith values in the public square, as a columnist, then editor of The Long Island Catholic; Communications Director for the Catholic League and the N.Y. State Catholic Conference; co-host of The Catholic Forum cable TV show; and now editor of his own blog, Reading the Signs. Visit Rick’s home page at rickhinshaw.com. Read Rick Hinshaw's Reports — More Here.
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