I been given cause to reflect on Fathers this Father’s Day from a different angle. It was from within the Black Lives Matter movement that has been renewed since the death of George Floyd.
John Anderson, the former deputy Prime Minister, now social commentator and author, pointed to a problem that he and many others believe is deeper and as worthy of our best efforts as those we apply to dealing with racism. He spoke of the crippling problem of fatherlessness.
Sure, dad’s are not perfect. My dad was not perfect. We had our rocky times. I have not been a perfect dad. I am aware that for many, Father’s Day is troubling and difficult.
And for some, the pain is so deep that they can only avoid Father’s Day and write off their father or even go so far as to write off the whole place of fathers in their own and in our community’s life. I do not believe this is the best way to go.
John Anderson made the point in the Weekend Australian that racism is not the only problem we are facing as a culture. He says “the problem is fatherlessness, and it’s increasingly being recognised not only as the greatest problem facing African-Americans, but America itself. (https://www.theaustralian.com.au/inquirer/black-lives-matter-but-dads-should-matter-first/news-story/6a15df9eeb3ffcbe6a9ae5a92dff1400)
There can be no doubt that today many men are feeling a mixture of confusion and self-doubt, which is spiralling into a crisis of confidence about what it is to be a man. The explosive success of Jordan Peterson’s writings and lecture tours, much of which speaks to men struggling to find their role in the face of often virulent criticism, testifies to this. I have had the great honour of coming to know Peterson and it was he who personally introduced me to Warren Farrell.
Speaking to Farrell at his home in California, I was deeply impressed by his mastery of the facts and figures and also by his genuine concern for the largely silent plight of men. With the decline of the family and traditionally male-dominated industries — manufacturing, mining, farming — we have inherited a serious problem for men, what Farrell and Gray call the “purpose void”.
Men without purpose are easily manipulated by charismatic men who can make them feel important. In our age of deep and wide social division, the last thing we need is a generation of men who can be manipulated by fringe militant ideological movements, right or left.
This is something that we would do well to reflect on around Fathers Day. “The most important single crisis in developed countries,” write Farrell and Gray, is “dad-deprived children and especially dad-deprived boys.”
This crisis is not just for the Americans. It is part of our community too. I have certainly seen dad-deprived boys and men in 30 years of working in churches and schools. So many girls and boys I have come across have absent or simply unaffectionate/disconnected Fathers. Dad is always working. Dad does not engage with the kids when he is home. He is keener to be anywhere else than with the family….. And so it goes.
These are the girls and boys who often soak up any moment of real interest and kindness shown to them by an adult male. Sometime they can very ‘clingy’ as they search for any morsel of affirmation and kindness. Either that, or they just withdraw further because they just don’t know what to do with an adult male who actually cares and shows some interest in them as a person. Heartbreaking, either way.
But Anderson wants to say that Fathers matter. I agree. I am a father of four and fathers have their crucial place.
Andersons tells us that
“a 2011 Australian Institute of Family Studies report summarised research finding that “Australian fathers play a vital role in their families” and that fathers’ parenting is “sometimes different, but complementary to, the role of mothers.” Furthermore, there are positive associations between measures of fathering and children’s socio-emotional and learning outcomes. In other words, fathers matter, uniquely”.
Apparently Paul Amato, a professor and expert in family research at Penn State University, calls this unique and crucial role “the Father Effect”. When this special role is unfulfilled it is not good for anyone. Amato says, “When boys are hurt, they hurt us — physically, psychologically and economically.”
I wonder whether we see this hurt in men being played out all the time – from the effects of an angry Dad, and angry abusing husband, an Alpha man bent on winning at all costs to a lone wolf hater of some particular religious or racial group. Hurt men hurt people.
I need to hear that my role as Father in my family and in my country is real and unique and very needed, and then to learn how to be that man who helps the hurt be less. I need to know that I am really important and that I as Father bring special gifts to the world. I need to share this affirmation with the men I know.
I want to say to all families and all in our community, Fathers lives matter. All fathers matter. With the long term humility and strength, gentleness and compassion of fathers our boys and girls won’t grow up to hurt as much, and therefore won’t hurt so much.
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