Are you old enough to remember shows like Father Knows Best, Leave it to Beaver and the Andy Griffith Show? If you are, you remember a time where fathers were portrayed in the media as wise and helpful. Those days are long gone. A decade ago the The New York Times published an article called The Doofus Dad by John Tierney where he lamented the portrayal of fathers in the media. More recently Seth Stevenson wrote in Slate about the portrayal of dad’s in commercials in an article called The Reign of the Doltish Dad: Men in commercials can’t do anything right. Will that ever change? Though the media likes to portray fathers as unnecessary and unhelpful, the opposite is true. When fathers are not actively and positively involved in the lives of their children it has terrible consequences for everyone.
Consider the atrocity committed upon Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston last Wednesday evening. In the aftermath, many questions have been asked about the proliferation of guns and the appropriateness of the Confederate flag. These are good questions that need a thorough examination. It is also important to ask about the killer’s dad. Where was he? What role did he play in his son’s life? Could this have been prevented?
At this point we do not know a lot about the home of the killer but a picture is emerging. According to media reports the killer grew up in a home where domestic violence was prevalent. The killer’s father reportedly gave him .45 caliber handgun in April for his birthday. We have also seen many pictures of the killer in his home, at a museum and elsewhere that indicate his racist thinking and actions are part of a pattern of behavior that has been going on for some time. Although each individual is responsible for their own actions, dad’s can have a major impact upon the outcome of the life of their child. What is a dad to do?
A plethora of research studies indicate that a strong relationship between a child and their father is critical to prosocial development. A dad must be with their child though to develop this kind of relationship. Three years ago the Pew Research Center published a study on dads called A Tale of Two Fathers: More are active, more are absent. The data indicate that the majority of fathers (78 percent) in the United States spend about the same or more time with their children than their dad spent with them. However, there were 20 percent who spent less time with their children than their dad had spent with them. In 2010, 27 percent of children were living apart from their fathers. Living apart from dad had real implications. Only 31 percent of children who lived apart from their dad talked with him about their day compared to 93 percent of children who lived with him. In fact, 31 percent of children living apart from their dad indicated they received a call or email from their dad less than once a month. Why is it so detrimental when dad is not around?
Dads have a critical role to teach their children about life. The Bible says in Proverbs 22:6 to “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Being with a child creates an opportunity to teach the child. The Bible teaches that parents are to teach their children all day (Deuteronomy 6:4-9) and every day. Teach them when they get up in the morning, as they walk (or drive through the community), when they sit at home, and before they go to bed at night.
What are father’s to teach? They are to teach the child about God and the proper relationship to Him (Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength), and about how they are to treat other people (Love your neighbor as yourself). When a father is with their child on a daily basis there will be opportunities to observe when faulty ideas and attitudes are creeping into the child’s life. This allows for teaching specifically on that subject. For example, if your child is developing a racist attitude you can find some good teaching from the Bible that addresses this (Romans 10:12).
Dads have to be with their child to discipline their children. The Bible says in Proverbs 19:18 to “Discipline your son, for there is hope; do not set your heart on putting him to death.” In other words, hold your child accountable for their actions or there will be terrible consequences. This is easier done when a child is younger. If you want to develop a nice retirement portfolio you don’t begin investing when you are 60. You begin investing early in your life. Similarly, if you want to develop a child who becomes a well-adjusted adult, you have to begin disciplining them from the very beginning of their life. Still, as a father one can continue to wield influence on their son or daughter’s life even in adulthood. A father might ask, does my son still live at home; am I supporting him in any way (e.g., car payment, car insurance, food)? If the answer is yes, he has influence and can wield it if his son or daughter is going awry.
Teaching and discipline must come under the umbrella of love. The Bible says in Ephesians 6:4, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” The Scripture reminds father’s that all that they do is founded upon love. They love their children in spite of their failures. In fact, it is that love that empowers them to teach and discipline their children (Proverbs 3:11-12). They love their children more than themselves. This enables them to spend the time necessary with them to help and develop them.
It’s time to have a dialog about dads. A recent editorial in The Union suggested that “despite what you see on TV, the role of dad should not be downplayed but celebrated.” I agree. Let’s quit pretending dads are irrelevant, and begin encouraging men to embrace this important calling. A dad that teaches, disciplines, and loves develops a different kind of product than one who is absent, disengaged, and angry. Let’s emphasize the importance of being a real dad. Failure to do so is detrimental to us all.