An Internet search for “Father’s Day 2018” brings up a top hit: “20 Last-Minute Father’s Day Gifts That Are Amazon Prime-Eligible.” Now, like most dads, I’m not one to complain about receiving gifts (especially when they involve a good weekend of fishing), but something is wrong when popular culture understands the obligations of Father’s Day as nothing more than a 30-minute phone call and shipping your dad something Amazon’s website said were “Dad’s Favorites.”
Like so many other things in our culture today, the commercialization of this holiday obscures its true meaning. Father’s Day is about so much more than store sales and cheesy coffee mugs. It is, to borrow the words a resolution President Calvin Coolidge once signed on its celebration, a day “to impress upon fathers the full measure of their obligations,” and remind ourselves of the importance of fatherhood to our country.
It is something that, unfortunately in today’s culture, needs to be repeated often and with clarity: fathers matter. Their responsibilities in families and society are all essential to the strength of our country. Fathers and mothers serve equally important, but distinct, functions in raising children. Fathers play the indispensable role in protecting their families from harm, encouraging children to overcome challenges, disciplining children with authority, and teaching boys how to become responsible men by modeling responsibility themselves.
This should not be controversial. In fact, it is an area of bipartisan agreement. President Barack Obama once said, “Of all the rocks upon which we build our lives…family is the most important. And we are called to recognize and honor how critical every father is to that foundation. They are teachers and coaches. They are mentors and role models. They are examples of success and the men who constantly push us toward it.”
From the Moynihan report to Republicans partnering with President Bill Clinton on welfare reform, politicians who have studied the causes of family instability and poverty have all recognized the crucial role fathers play. It’s something worth remembering this Father’s Day, because the absence of strong fathers and strong families is the leading cause of so much of our current social chaos.
We see the consequences of fatherlessness all around our country, in deep and sometimes unexpected ways. The research connecting fatherlessness to increased crime rates among adolescents is widely discussed surrounding the prevalence of child poverty, but it affects all of us. We should consider that absent fathers’ causality in youth delinquency might encourage the kind of reckless, rebellious nihilism evident in so many of the young men who have committed horrific acts of violence. For example, more than 75 percent of the most-cited school shooters since Columbine came from broken homes.
The results of our confusion on what it means to become a man, and its culminating rite of passage in responsible fatherhood, afflict communities throughout our country. It makes for an alarming number of working-age young men who do not work, seem to have no drive, and take drugs to escape their frustration. It makes for an equally alarming number of young men who abuse women, abandon financial responsibility for their children, become thugs, or become ridiculous hyper-masculine idiots. The data on this point is irrefutable: fatherlessness is associated with higher rates of poverty, crime, drug addiction, and divorce, perpetuating a cycle for generations to come.
In no way does this reality devalue the equally important work of mothers, especially single mothers and their children who struggle against many obstacles to succeed. There is nothing more American than their round-the-clock labor of love or the grit of the children of broken homes who go on to break the cycle. But single mothers are often the first to acknowledge how difficult it is to raise children when their fathers are absent from their homes or their lives.
Fixing these problems associated with fatherlessness will require more than any politician or government program can offer. But at least for this Father’s Day, let’s focus less on the latest gadgets and cultural outrages, and more on the distinct value—and obligations—of fatherhood and the fatherly virtues of honor, drive to provide, bravery, courage, conviction, gentle toughness, and strength of will.