It says something — and not a good something — that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services sees a need for a website dedicated to providing men with information on how to be a decent father. Even more, federal officials are paying a hefty price to encourage groups to offer programs to teach basic fatherhood skills.
As posted on fatherhood.hhs.gov, “Each year, $75 million (in federal grants) may be used for activities promoting fatherhood, such as counseling, mentoring, marriage education, enhancing relationship skills, parenting and activities to foster economic stability.”
The sheer number of men who abandon their children makes it clear that some kind of effort is needed. The National Fatherhood Initiative cites U.S. Census Bureau data: “24 million children in America — one out of three — live in biological father-absent homes.” The implications of that parenting void are significant.
The HHS site details the positive effects of present, active, caring dads, including children recording better grades in school, having better self-esteem and exhibiting positive social behavior. In fact, “Committed and responsible fathering during infancy and early childhood contributes emotional security, curiosity, and math and verbal skills.”
A lot of factors are involved in children’s aptitudes and behaviors, and a lot of single moms are working as hard as they can to make ends meet and raise their children to the best of their abilities. But in a 2008 piece in Psychology Today, Roy F. Baumeister raised an interesting question: “What about fatherhood? What has our society … told him about it?”
Baumeister contended that while society wants men to live up their fatherhood obligations, “they are not respected for doing so. In the media, fathers are mostly portrayed as clueless, hapless buffoons.” Most TV dads, from Archie Bunker on “All in the Family” to Al Bundy on “Married ... With Children” to the ubiquitous Homer Simpson have reinforced the “Dad equals dope” mindset. As a father myself, I can tell you that using Dad as the family punching bag became a tired act decades ago. I’m not saying that is a legitimate excuse for a man to abandon his children, but consideration should be given to the implication of that message being repeated so much.
Baumeister also argued that “social policy and social science have affirmed for decades that it is perfectly fine for a woman to raise children without a husband or father.” He wrote that good intentions likely were at the root of that message, wanting to provide support and encouragement to women thrust into single-parent situations. But the contention that “children of single mothers do just fine, especially if the departed father continues to send money” just doesn’t hold up through decades of experience.
The bottom line: If you fathered a child, that child needs you — so long as you are going to be financially responsible, attentive and supportive. The last thing your child and that child’s mother need is another overgrown baby to look after.
I’m not painting myself as some kind of ideal dad — there have been times when I have been flat-out awful. I’m guilty of being too selfish, of expecting too much of my children and of wanting things for them more than they wanted it for themselves. Hey, I’m human, but I’m also trying to be better each day.
With Father’s Day upon us, I share a couple of dad-related gifts I have received that have left positive impressions for my lifetime.
The months leading up to tryouts for the seventh-grade basketball team, my dad and I would play one-on-one in our driveway almost every night. Every time we played, Pops would beat me. To encourage me, he said I would know I was ready to make the school team when I got good enough to beat him.
The night before tryouts started, we played one final game, and I posted my first victory. I’m still not sure if Pops let me win, but he did give me the confidence I needed, and I went on to make the team.
When we lived in Arizona, I coached my son Chaz’s flag football team. The final day of the season was a big tournament to determine the league champion. Of the 17 teams in our age group, our team, the Bears, was seeded ninth. After scraping by for a first-round win over the Chargers, we had to face our nemesis, the No. 3-ranked Steelers. Our boys pulled off the upset, with most of the other teams wandering over to our field to cheer us on once they got word we were winning (the trash-talking Steelers weren’t very popular). We then lost to the eventual champion Giants, but rallied to top the Cowboys to claim third place.
On the drive home, both of us exhausted from the day’s events, Chaz said, “Thanks, Dad, for coaching our team.” It was the perfect end to a great day.
To any dad who has chosen to be absent from your kids’ lives, know that you are missing out on the chance to inspire and be inspired every day. There are no greater gifts.