Sunday is Father’s Day.
For many families, it is a day for loving celebration. For too many others, it is “just another day”—or worse, a day of hurt and anguish.
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 who have been denied that loving, 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 numbers are hard to come by, it is doubtful that 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 care families, with their mother and a stepfather or boyfriend.
To be sure, many such surrogate fathers are loving and caring—although research makes clear that children living with nonrelative men, especially mothers’ boyfriends, are at greatest risk of being abused.
Of course, some biological fathers (and mothers) also 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 runaway children, school dropouts, substance abusers, perpetrators and victims of sexual abuse, suicides, young people in juvenile detention facilities 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 are absent because they are incarcerated, and too many more choose not to be with their children. In other cases, the children’s mother does not want the father present. Often, this is justified: the father is abusive to her and/or the children; he is unfaithful; or he is irresponsible, or involved in criminal activity, and therefore a bad influence on, and possibly a danger to, his children.
Other times, however, 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, 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 the 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, or help support, their families; who come home at night and focus on their children, helping them with schoolwork, attending their various activities, playing with them, talking with them, teaching and encouraging them, making them feel loved and protected. These are the men who sacrifice much of their own leisure time to do things with and for 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—always the highlight of the year for our dad—he told us that one of his colleagues at work 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.