Forgotten Fathers

For the most part today, I’m going to spare people yet another panegyric about my father. Let’s just say that he was a loving, guiding, wise and kind presence in my life, and that as a man and as a father, I have always striven to be what he was.

But on this Father’s Day, I want to honor two groups of men. First, the single fathers who are raising their children with little or no support from the mother, who every damn day are providing love and care and guidance and wisdom to their children, and work hard to fill in the gap in their lives with little to no assistance.

The second group of honored fathers are the men who, by fault or fiat, are no longer the primary caretakers of their sons and daughters. These men battle daily with a social system biased against them so that they can remain their children’s fathers, not only by DNA, but by affection and time and teaching that only a father can give.

It’s that last point that is critical for us to acknowledge. Fathers provide something to their children that is not duplicable. Studies show one of our most important roles is to teach our children to play — important, as play is how children develop many of the skills they will need to navigate successfully through life. Through play, we teach our children how to comport themselves as adults.

The research on fathers and children is still limited, but is best summarized as this: Children who have an involved father are more likely to be emotionally secure, be confident to explore their surroundings, and, as they grow older, have better social connections.

For sons, in particular, we play an important role, that of taking him from the world of his mother and women, and introducing him to the world of men. Ideally, when we initiate our sons into adulthood, we teach them what it *really* means to be a man — neither the hyper-aggressiveness of the Rambo archetype, nor the feminized passivity of the “sensitive New Age man.”

There is a path in between those two, where a man demonstrates not only physical and mental bravery, but also tenderness and kindness; where a man not only keeps his own counsel, but relies on the men around him for emotional support. The man who delivers time and again to his community with courage, kindness, and love.

Many of us men have yet to re-learn that lesson; it’s one that started to get lost generations ago — yet it is critical that we embody that mature masculinity to pass these skills along to our sons, and as an example of excellence to our daughters.

And to the extent that we have not, we can see the damage. I am loathe to pin the plague of violent, gun-toting young men on a single cause — the causes are many and varied — yet one of the common factors with almost all of these boys is that they lacked a father, or strong father figure, in their lives. It is, in my opinion, a critically important factor that is being mostly overlooked.

Which brings me back to the fathers I honor today; I count you among my friends and peers, and I have deep respect for that rock you roll up the hill every single day, tirelessly, singularly, and for the most part, thanklessly. Regardless of adverse circumstance, you are Dad, the jewel of masculinity in its many facets.

Thank you men, for everything you do for your children. Not only are you enriching their lives beyond description, you enrich the rest of us as well.

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