“Involved fathers bring positive benefits to their children that no other person is as likely to bring.” – Dr. David Popenoe
I waited until after Mothers Day before putting this post up, and for good reason. I hope each of you took very seriously your role in leading your family into a meaningful celebration of the mom that raised you up in this world and the mother of your children. I sincerely hope that none of you could be found in the “aisle of shame”. The aisle of shame is what I call the card and flower section at the local grocery store anytime during the day on Sunday. I had to run to the store Sunday morning to pick up some supplies for dinner and couldn’t believe the number of men rushing in to get last minute cards and flowers. It’s not like this holiday can sneak up on your or anything. But more than that, it is such an important day. I went head to head with fellow blogger in a heated comment exchange, which he later removed because he thought my use of a particular phrase was “creative but offensive”. I had liked this guy’s blog until I realized that his flavor of manhood was looking more chauvinistic and even patriarchal. Not patriarchal in the sense that I espouse, but in a radical sense lead by people like Doug Phillips who just resigned his duties at the Vision Forum home school network because, as it turns out, the “role” he designed for his 19 year old nanny was apparently a way south of “appropriate”. He was taking issue with a YouTube video that identified motherhood as the hardest job in the world. His contention is that Fatherhood is equally hard. It wasn’t just me who took issue with that statement, I think a lot of people did. The reality is that the YouTube video is right on. Motherhood is the hardest job in the world and there is simply no comparison. For a woman, she knows the child very soon after that little life is formed inside of her and forms a deep bond with it that the males among us will NEVER EVER comprehend. It is a kind of love that men are simply not capable of ever comprehending. To be the vessel for the creation of a brand new life, to know that soul before the rest of the world meets it, there must be nothing else in the world like that and it is an experience unique to women. The pain of labor, the joy of birth, the daily battle with “mommy guilt”; as men, we will never really understand these things. As you might expect by the title of this post, you know I’m about to talk about fatherhood; however, I just couldn’t until the above had been said. If you missed the boat this year, don’t wait until next year, declare next Sunday or the Sunday after a mother’s day do over, and try again.
I needed to clarify my beliefs on motherhood so as not to be misunderstood in what I am about to lay out for you. In just over a month now, we will celebrate father’s day, but what does that even mean anymore? As I look over all of my thoughts and ideas from week to week and decide which to share, many times I am simply overwhelmed by the breadth of topics that I know need to be addressed. Check the index page if you haven’t seen my prior posts, but specifically, last week’s post which asked the really hard question … Who Are You? If part of your answer to that question involves children that you have brought into this world, then there is a whole host of things you should consider. As you now know, I fully agree that motherhood is the hardest job in the world. I also believe that motherhood simply can not exist without fatherhood. There are obvious biological reasons for that. Obviously a child can not be made without a father, except in the case of immaculate conception which has, to my knowledge, only happened one time. Other than that, for every mother … there is, or was, a father; at least in the biological sense.
In much of my prior writings, you have seen my insistence that a proper definition of manhood and manhood in general is eroding in The Global West, I will now add to that the assertion that the same is true of fatherhood. Moreover, I will argue that the two are profoundly intertwined. I began with a quote from Dr. David Popenoe, Author and Professor Emeritus of Sociology at Rutgers University, and will include here a lengthy quote from his book Life without father: Compelling new evidence that fatherhood and marriage are indispensable for the good of children and society.
In all too many cases, we have allowed our roles as fathers to become simply the “breadwinner”, if even that, in many cases event the “partial breadwinner” and our roles in the home have been increasingly marginalized. So I guess we can blame it all on women’s liberation and equality movements, right? WRONG!. Just go re-read my post about male stereotypes. No, if we want to know who to blame it’s really simple … go find a full-length mirror and stand in front of it. Now in some ways, we may not be directly responsible for the fatherhood concept the Western world holds today, the males before us, in some cases, allowed things to get to this point; however, the man looking back at you in the mirror can shape the destiny of true fatherhood. The case for the importance of fatherhood is gaining traction and the facts are compelling to say the least. According to the book entitled, The Role of Fathers in Child Development (3rd ed), in the 1980’s, several researchers sought to identify the effects of increased paternal involvement on children. In most of these studies, researchers compared the status of children in “traditional” families with that of children whose fathers either shared or took primary responsibility for childcare. If you look at the research from these teams, it is clear that “children with highly involved fathers were characterized by increased cognitive competence, increased empathy, fewer sex-stereotyped beliefs, and a more internal “locus of control” (In personality psychology, locus of control refers to the extent to which individuals believe that they can control events that affect them).
I’m currently exploring some involvement with The National Fatherhood Initiative around increasing paternal involvement in the elementary and middle school grades and a quick visit to one of their webpages page on their website will give you a whole host of additional facts to consider. The bottom line is this. Fatherhood matters and fatherhood is in crisis.
As I pondered that and considered how best to bring these concepts to you, I realized once again, the inadequacy of the English language to fully address this topic. Many of the languages of antiquity have complex constructions for words that ultimately get translated into the English word “father”. Whether it’s the Hebrew we find in the Torah, the Greek we find in the Christian New Testament, Arabic in Qur’an, or Sanskrit in the Bhagavad Gita … in each you’ll find complex constructions for what we simply call “father”. So if I structure my thoughts around the need for each of us to be better “fathers”, according to what is know considered the “traditional” role of a father, I really haven’t done much. Let’s be honest, the bar is pretty low for fathers these days. I find that many of the guys I talk to find it very helpful to think in terms of achieving levels or task categories. I think this is a very natural way for our brains to function. It’s natural and helpful for us to classify things, ascribe attributes to these classifications, and work from there. If you, like me, are a fourth-frame world view kind of guy (click here if you need an explanation for that), you’ll recall that sorting and classifying was one of the first jobs that God gave to created man. With that as a backdrop, what if I was to construct for you a hierarchical father classification system; a maturity model of sorts? Based on the little bit of research that I have showed you here, and the immense research you will find if you choose to do it on your own, you can not escape from the simple fact that the more involved and engaged the father, the better the outcome. Obviously, there are exceptions to every rule and many great success stories of individuals who have overcome obstacles of passed, absent, or malevolent fathers; however, I’m speaking to males directly, fathers or potential fathers and making one key assumption. You wouldn’t have read this far if this wasn’t in some way important to you. So let’s drill down a bit into the concept of fatherhood and use this concept as our structure. Fatherhood can exist at five levels, each level having it’s own set of benefits for the child and for the family, which are cumulative in nature. The levels are as follows:
- Level One – Alive But Absent (Sperm Donor)
- Level Two – Present
- Level Three – Present and Available
- Level Four – Present, Available, and Engaged
- Level Five – Present, Available, and Highly Engaged
This construct obviously assumes that the presence of the father is positive for the family. Addicted, emotionally abusive, and/or physically abusive fathers are excluded from this model, but I doubt those in that category would have read this far anyway.
This is the basic and minimum standard for a father. It is very simply to be physically present. Now here two things need to be addressed; the widowed family and the broken family. Obviously a father who has passed is not going to be available in this way and my sincere hope is that other father figures stand in the gap for those families. Also, the reality of our world is that a large percentage of marriages end in divorce. Divorces divide homes and divide families, but don’t preclude presence. It is in no way ideal, divorce impacts a father’s ability to be present but it does not preclude it. I was in the most interesting exchange the other day. A divorced friend of mine told me how much he regretted all of those weekends when, while married, he could have been with his children but chose to do other things and now he finds himself sitting around on the weekends wishing he could have that time back, but now only having two weekends per month with them. Choking back the tears, he said, “I would let the grass grow … I would trade all of the rounds of golf I ever played for just one extra weekend with my kids.” Your presence in fathering is not an obligation, it is the greatest gift that you will ever receive.
Being present and being available couldn’t be more different. We all know that we have a propensity to be physically present yet completely unavailable. The best part about this is when we are confronted with our lack of availability; we just LOVE to stand our “Presence” as defense. I consider the state of “unavailable but present” as one of the great tragedies of fatherhood. To bodily leave work and go home, only to mentally leave home and let your mind wander back to work is something that I can, from experience, tell you is that most futile of all activities. If you have decided to bodily leave work, let your mind follow. If you think you wife and children don’t notice the difference between presence and availability; you are wrong … they certainly do! And yes I did, I did just covertly connect the roles of husband and father. But wait, you say, we are talking about fatherhood here, save your opinions on husbandry for another day. But I cant! According to The Handbook of father involvement: Multidisciplinary perspectives, one of the most important influences a father can have on his child is indirect—fathers influence their children in large part through the quality of their relationship with the mother of their children. A father who has a good relationship with the mother of their children is more likely to be involved and to spend time with their children and to have children who are psychologically and emotionally healthier. So when it comes to availability, being available for your wife is just as important as being available for your children.
The Fatherhood Availability Ratio: Here is an interesting way to get down to business and see how you are doing in this category. It’s a ratio of hours spent fathering to hours available to do stuff … technically speaking. Here is out it works.
- There are 168 Hours in a week
- You need to sleep 56 Hours per week
- Most people are required to work 8 hours per day and have 2 hours per day in the car, that’s 50 hours per week
- That leaves 62 discretionary hours per week to use in any way you decide
This is just an example, not a real scenario from anyone, but just to give you an idea.
You may feel strange doing this, but take a week or two and test it out … you’ll learn a lot about your real priorities. Create categories for husbanding and fathering and keep track of time you spend present and available for those activities. I did this myself several years ago and it changed my life and how I invest my time.
Levels four and five introduce the concept of engagement at various levels. The difference between engaged and highly engaged is subjective and only you, as a husband and father, can measure that. I can most effectively explain this with an example. Ever watch one of your kids play a team sport or some other activity? They are always present, sometimes available, and rarely engaged. If they are consistently engaged in the activity or even highly engaged, you know you have found one of their passions. For all of our time spent present with our families, and even the time we spend present and available for fathering, how many can really say that they are engaged or highly engaged. Let me ask a harder question. If you have been given assets to manage at work, whether they are dollars, equipment, staff, customers, or opportunities. If you are given assets to manage, I’m willing to bet you take that pretty seriously. You probably have plans and metrics and status reporting mechanisms. Hard question alert … do you have the same for your children? Could you tell me the names of their teachers? Their best friends? Can you tell me where each of them are in their spiritual journey and what their next step is? Can you tell me what last hurt them emotionally? That is engagement, and that is where fathering really happens. Don’t have time you say? Look at your fatherhood availably ratio and tell me if the important stuff is getting the highest or lowest percentage of time.
And that leads me to my long overdue close, way over my promised 2,000 word max this time, for which I hope you will pardon given the breadth of this particular topic. Guy’s, remember what I said in my intro? Everything you have been told about what it means to be a man is all jacked up. Today I have covered a lot of ground but I can summarize it this way. We have to attack the myth of the breadwinner. We need to get in the fathering game. Men, we are more than the money we put in our families bank account … we are more than the bread on the tables or the bacon we bring home. We have been given care over the most valuable assets, new lives; lives that desperately need things that only us men can provide. Our families need us present, our families need us available, our families need us engaged. Breadwinning is part of that to be sure, but only one part, not the only part. This will be the topic for my next post, which will be titled, Bring Your ‘A’ Game. In this next post, we will explore some misplaced ambitions that may just change your life.