As we prepare for Father’s Day next Sunday, I recently read about the discovery of a kind of ancient “Father’s Day card,” a clay tablet almost 3,000 years old found in the ruins of the city of Babylon in present day Iraq. Pressed into the clay of the tablet was a message from a son to his father, wishing him a long and healthy life.
A little more than 100 years ago, in 1909, Sonora Dodd, a 27-year-old woman from Spokane, Wash., was in church listening to a Mother’s Day sermon. Her father had raised her and her five younger brothers by himself after her mother died, and she wondered why there was no day to honor fathers. So, with the help of her pastor, she successfully petitioned religious and civic officials in Spokane to institute a day for fathers, which was first celebrated on June 19, 1910. From this modest start, Father’s Day has become a yearly celebration of fathers and fatherhood in over 50 countries around the world.
Each of us has a father and a mother. Every father has the duty to love, nurture, educate, protect and provide for his children. We know too that the best gift that a father can give to his son or daughter is to love their mother. I am certainly grateful for my late father’s love and affection for me, my brother and my mother.
Every child has an innate desire for the love and care of their mother and father, to live together as a family and to be able to rely on their parents for an ongoing presence in their life. In reflecting on the importance of fathers as we approach Father’s Day, I can’t help but consider what a great loss it is to children who do not know their fathers, either because of early death, separation, divorce or an unwillingness or inability to be involved in the lives of their children.
In a recent column in this paper, I wrote about an inmate I encountered at Lemon Creek Correctional Center on Christmas Day. He shared with me how difficult it was for him to be separated from his daughters, particularly on that day. He told me that his children were his motivation to live a better life and he vowed that, for their sake, he would change his life and not reoffend.
A few weeks ago we met again. He had been released and he told me that he is working to provide for his children and is doing his utmost to change his life in order to be a better father for them. I saw in his example both the harm done to children and fathers when they are separated, but also the good that comes to children when fathers embrace their calling.
Being a good father is not easy. To be a good, loving and responsible father requires a culture of support and encouragement, accountability and expectation. Unfortunately, contemporary society in many ways is deeply confused and conflicted about the nature and importance of fatherhood. Fatherhood is too often viewed as an optional aspect of family life, as a lifestyle choice rather than an essential and sacred role in the family.
Unfortunately, some question if fathers are even necessary in the lives of children and for the building up of society.
It is ironic that some of our civic leaders who have argued in the past for the necessity of fathers to be responsible and involved in the lives of their children are now advancing laws and public policies that redefine marriage and family in ways that make fatherhood optional.
The vital role that fathers play in the lives of children and in their families is not optional. Children, no matter what circumstances they are raised in, have an innate desire to know their mother and father, and to be known by them. When this doesn’t happen, whether for legitimate reasons such as death, or illegitimate reasons based on selfishness and choices that put adult desires ahead of the needs of children, they continue to long for and desire their mother and their father. Children don’t merely desire to have information about their parents, they desire to be loved, nurtured, and recognized by a mother and a father. Children deprived of a mother and father experience a profound loss, one that needs to be met with compassion and empathy.
It is time for us, as a culture, to revisit the natural and sacred dimensions of being a father and to consider what our society might look like if we regarded fatherhood, in the context of children and family, as optional. The present trends to redefine marriage and family are based on an adult-centered desire and not on what the child needs most – a mother and a father.
The evidence of finding a 3,000 year old “Father’s Day card” shows that the reality of family and fatherhood is timeless. We should find ourselves doing everything we can to advocate and support motherhood, fatherhood, marriage and family, and work against false ideas and policies that undermine and obscure the most essential, timeless and necessary human reality — the family.