Why fathers are so important in today’s society
I am kind of a father fanatic. Pastors are known to be not so kind in their evaluation of the stuff that comes out of Hollywood (with good reason). However, I cannot count the number of films that illustrate the importance of a father in a child’s life. Think of these classic films: Star Wars, To Kill a Mockingbird, It’s a Wonderful Life, Life is Beautiful, and Field of Dreams. Not so classic are movies like About a Boy, Lars and the Real Girl, and Swimming Upstream, which illustrate the over-used but very real term “father-wound.” Call it what you will, there is a huge ache in the hearts of kids and adult men and women who have not had a father or father-figure. What is it about a father that only a father can do? Here are three things.
First, according to David Blankenhorn, “[a father has] a distinctive capacity to contribute to the identity, character, and competence of his children.” He calls this a father’s cultural transmission—something he can uniquely pass on from one generation to the next. Only a father can pass on to a son (or daughter) a confidence that will allow them to stand in the world outside of the home, affirming that they are strong enough to stand up to all that life can throw at them. Only a father can show a son what it means to be a man and show a daughter the kind of man she might one day look for. There is a soul-sturdiness that he passes on. I know it’s obvious, but for all the good and nurturing things a mother can do, they can’t model healthy masculinity.
Second, only a father (or father figure) can call a boy into manhood. Ask almost any man when he knew he was a man and he will look confused. He might say it was when he could drive a car, drink a beer, earn a paycheck, have sex, or shoot a gun. Really? Is that what it means to be a man? Is that the best answer we can give? At other times in history and in other cultures, a boy became a man when he understood what it means to sacrifice his own desires for a greater cause. It was when he realized that he is called to protect and provide for other people, i.e. be responsible. Have we not reached a new low when many 18- to 35-year-old men spend a large amount of time playing video games? As writer Michael Gurian says, “Girls don’t want to marry men who are still adolescent boys suffering despair in nether worlds between “boy,” “male adult,” and “man.” We need men who can call boys into manhood, into a life of sacrifice and meaningful activity.
Third, only a father’s absence can leave certain wounds in the hearts of children. Look at these statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau. Kids from homes without fathers were:
- 9 times more likely to drop out of school.
- 10 times more likely to abuse chemical substances.
- 20 times more likely to have behavioral disorders.
- 5 times more likely to commit suicide.
Years ago I did weekly visits to three men in prison. Each of them had their stories but they all shared a common link: absent or abusive fathers. Talking about their fathers only brought out anger and resentment. Since 78% of our nation’s jail and prison population are from families without fathers, there is a lot of anger and pain in our prisons that has its root in fatherlessness.
I write all of this because it is an under-reported plague which will effect generations to come. If you are interested in learning more, I would recommend the documentary by Justin Hunt called Absent (www.absentmovie.com). It will awaken longings in you as well as anger. It will also give you reason for hope. The closing verse of the Old Testament speaks of God turning “the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse.” I know what I am praying for.