Sunday was Father’s Day, and I had a very nice day. First, I assisted at the 8am Mass and got to preach on the Solemnity of the Holy Body and Blood of Christ. Then I went home and took a good, long nap. After my daughter woke me up, we traveled down to Gatlinburg to visit the Aquarium of the Smokies, which we had not visited in quite a few years. After that, we came home and had chinese for dinner and I watched some baseball. I also had a chance to talk by phone to both of my older daughters who live out of town. It was wonderful to spend time with my family. It felt like a real Father’s Day.
I’ve written about this before, but our society tends to not emphasize the importance of fathers in the life of children. We speak heroically, as well we should, of the efforts of single mothers and the importance of mothers. But we give short shrift to fathers. The research, however, reveals the unmistakable positive influence fathers have on their children. Social science confirms that the best environment for children to grow up in is one where they are raised by their biological parents who are married to each other. Yet, our society tends to ignore this. Why? Because it’s not politically or socially or culturally popular. Adults want to live the lives they want to live without much regard for the impact on their kids. Divorce, cohabitation, same-sex unions, single parenthood – all of these have negative consequences for children. We know this. The research consistently demonstrates it. But we don’t like that fact, so we ignore the research, or we come up with studies that confirm what we want to believe.
The consequences of fatherless homes are far-reaching and devastating. Children are more likely to grow up in poverty, more likely to do poorly in school, more likely to become sexually active at an early age or get pregnant outside of marriage, more likely to become involved in drugs, and more likely to get involved in crime. Many school shooters came from fatherless homes. Yet in many of the discussions of how to solve these societal problems, fatherlessness is rarely brought up or considered. How do we increase the likelihood that children will grow up in homes with their fathers?
The obvious first step is for society to recognize the importance of fathers in public policy. We can begin by reforming welfare programs so they stop punishing married couples in such a way that encourages fathers being out of the home. Companies can offer paid paternity leave for their male employees and encourage a business culture that supports men who want or need to take time off to care for their newborn children. Based on my research on the question, there seems to be debate on whether or not fathers are discriminated against in custody battles, but courts certainly need to consider that fathers are just as important as mothers in raising children. The Church, too, needs to get into the act by providing more resources for couples getting married, improved marriage preparation, and help for couples after they have children. There seems to be very little support for couples with young children, even within families. I recall, as a pediatric nurse, noticing that workplaces weren’t too empathetic toward parents when their child was in the hospital. The expectation was that they would still come to work, leaving their child alone in the hospital.
Fathers, as well, need to recognize their importance in the lives of their children. They need to know that they have substantial positive influence in how their children turn out. There can be no excuses anymore for fathers who put work over family. Fathers need to find the balance between home and work that mothers have been struggling to find for decades. The role of a father is far more than simply providing for their material/financial needs. Fathers need to consciously decide if they want their children to be healthy and happy and then recognize the part they play in achieving that goal.
The bottom line is, fathers are essential for the health and well-being of their children. We need to recognize that and encourage fathers in every way possible to be involved in their children’s lives, regardless of family dynamics and structures. We will not find a solution to the many social problems and struggles our children suffer, or those we suffer together, if we continue to ignore the crucial role father’s play in their children’s lives. But more than simply solving social ills, fathers must be active in raising their children and in being present to them because the children deserve it.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.