The Aurelian Column "Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth."

The Day of the Father

Civilization is not just one, big thing. It’s a complex device made of many components. Cogs and wheels. Struts, beams, and support columns. Things that move, things that remain stationary, and things that live, grow and die.

Today is a day set aside for one of the organic components of our world called “Father.” Traditionally, he was the male head of a family who oversaw the security of the home, the proper upbringing of the children, their protection, sustenance, education, and made sure they were ready for life as an adult.

The father’s duties were always augmented by that of the mother, who usually saw to the more immediate nurturing of the offspring. And to a great extent, her duties overlapped that of the father’s — even to the point of protecting the family with deadly force. But fathers were always the ones who at the end of the day ensured the family survived and, to the extent possible, prospered. It’s a system the human race employed throughout most of our history and, for the most part, it worked pretty well.

Our modern American celebration of the Day of the Father can be traced back to a 1907 West Virginia mining disaster that killed hundreds of men and, as a result, left more than a thousand children fatherless. A few months after the tragedy, a local pastor held an event to commemorate the loss and predicament of the sons, daughters, and mothers at the urging of a lady named Grace Golden Clayton. Apparently to raise funds for the families. It was a very compassionate idea for that time, as well as practical. After all, losing a father was no small tragedy in an age when social welfare or public assistance programs were all but non-existent.

Throughout most of the human experience, if you didn’t have a father to take care of you and your mother, the suffering you’d endure during your young, usually short life would be unimaginably cruel. Loss of your father was usually a one way trip to hell which, if you survived, the post-trauma would never leave you. That psychological damage would then be passed on to the next generation, and the next, and the next, ad infinitum. If one looks at the blood-soaked 20th Century, and all the evil men who made it such a horror, a bit of research into their childhood upbringings and environments will show where the seeds of their future deeds were sown. The role of their fathers, or lack thereof, was almost always an essential ingredient in the mix.

Sadly, the time-tested traditional family unit of a father, mother, and children, is vanishing. And although much of this change is being attributed to our society “progressing,” it has led to the breakdown of the traditional bonds between a father and his children. Bonds that have served our species for hundreds of thousands of years.

This breaking of tradition is a serious problem. A look at any credible statistics on children growing up without fathers demonstrates why Dad is vital to society’s overall wellbeing. Among the most alarming numbers in recent years is the high percentage of men currently incarcerated in U.S. prisons who grew up in fatherless homes: upwards of 85%.

Fathers are important. But they are crucial when it comes to raising boys. Although there is no substitution for a mother’s love, she cannot replace a father, no matter how much she might try or have the job thrust upon her. Boys can only really learn to be men from other men. Good men. And real men — real fathers — accept this reality and the responsibility it entails, and see it for the high honor it truly is.

But we seem to have lost sight of all this and the reasons for other important traditions as we have slowly turned all of our national days of celebration into nothing more than a hunt for bargains at a local department store. For many years Father’s Day has been just another sleepy Sunday when you presented Dad with a necktie and a pre-messaged greeting card before racing out the door to go shopping. And given how important fathers are, sad is not the word for it.

But in recent years, as there has been a growing resurgence of male introspection and self-questioning of our role in society, I’ve noticed some fathers behaving a bit differently on “our day.” Instead of expecting to receive gifts from our wives and kids, we’ve been going out shopping for ourselves. Not to buy more of the frivolous junk we already possess in abundance, but to gather tools for a higher purpose.

On Father’s Day, instead of buying something we want for ourselves, some of us have started the tradition of picking up an item or doing something consciously that will help us become better dads. Usually, it's something for our kids along the lines of a book, or some instructional item we can share with our sons or daughters. Some of us might take up a new, constructive habit, or get rid of an old one, so as to help us to perform our jobs as fathers more efficiently. We work on our bodies, give up alcohol or smoking, or make the serious effort to spend more time on playground duty or homework assistance. Sort of a Father’s New Year's Eve resolution list for those of us still in the child rearing stage, which never actually ends.

It’s becoming a newer, more productive part of the Father’s Day tradition, and holds much promise. This year during my daddy-centric shopping spree, I added a few good books to my bedtime reading collection. Among them,
The Children’s Book of Virtues by William J. Bennett. It’s a beautiful mix of traditional morality stories re-tooled for the modern world. I’ve also made a few “daddy resolutions” that I plan on keeping. And all of it will have a more lasting, positive effect on all concerned than another gadget or time-wasting video.

So whether you are a father, know a father, or have a father, put aside a little time to reflect on what this day is all about, what it has been all about, and what it can be all about. The male side of the parental equation is an irreplaceable part of the cycle of human life and is deserving of care and respect from both participants and observers. It’s also a key to the future. The most certain way we have of building a better world is by making better people, and that means contributing to the nurturing of our children in a way only a father is capable of doing.

Frederick Douglass said it best: “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”

Fathers of the world, unite. Be proud of your title and the role in the human experience you play. But most of all, remember that you can never stop learning and bettering yourself enough to earn the admiration and respect that comes with the title “Dad.”

Happy Father's Day everyone!

For further reading:

Psychological Effects on Men Growing Up Without a Father

Statistics of Fatherless Children

More Statistics from the National Center for Fathering

© 2017 Thomas Michael Caldwell. All Rights Reserved. This written work is not to be copied or reproduced without the permission of the author. Links to this page from other websites is permitted and encouraged.