Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their opponents in court (Psalm 127: 3-5, NIV).
As the Psalmist declares, and proud fathers celebrate, we acknowledge that a godly father is undoubtedly a blessing to the children raised up by him. Children, sons especially, are valuable to fathers “because they grow up in time to be the defence and succour of their parents’ old age” (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges; Perowne, 1889). Additionally, they may be called upon to use their strength to defend their home, their city, and their country. However, it is the father who has to aim them, like arrows into their destiny, and model the responsibility of family and citizenship. There are a number of ways that we can define father. Medically, a father is: “a. A male whose sperm unites with an egg, producing an embryo. b. A male whose impregnation of a female results in the birth of a child. c. A man who adopts a child. d. A man who raises a child” (American Heritage Medical Dictionary, 2007). In a legal context, a father is someone who performs the following actions: “generate, increase, originate, parents, primogenitor, propagate, reproduce” (Burton’s Legal Thesaurus, 2007). From the Collins Discovery Encyclopedia (2005), the title father has much greater significance historically. Father is used in a religious context to denote “1. God, esp when considered as the first person of the Christian Trinity; 2. any of the writers on Christian doctrine of the pre-Scholastic period; 3. a title used for Christian priests.”
Why is this message more urgent today than it was last week when I first began to consider the topic for this blog? Right in the heart of this season where everyone is contemplating the joys, the hopes, and the sorrows of fatherhood, the USA was struck by another tragedy on June 14, 2017, as a lone gunman opened fire upon the Republican congressional baseball team as they practiced for an annual charity baseball game. The impact was devastating to this quiet Alexandria, Virginia community, but even more devastating to President Trump who had to celebrate his seventy-first birthday, his first since taking office, American Flag Day, and prepare the nation for father’s day in the midst of such horrific images. But, in a speech about five minutes long, President Trump found the words to father a heartbroken community, and a heartbroken nation. He spoke about the relationships that mattered in times of crisis. From Melania and himself, he acknowledged a friend in the Republican Whip, Steve Scalese, who was the most critically injured victim in the attack. He acknowledged God and the prayers of America and the world for Steve, and all the victims of the attack. He spoke of his actions towards Steve’s wife – pledging the commitment of resources for whatever they would need. He went on to laud the heroic efforts of the Capitol Police, Agents David Bailey and Crystal Griner whose actions prevented a massacre on the baseball field. The first responders from the Alexandria Police, Fire and Rescue also arrived within minutes and secured the field and contained the crowd. But, the nation’s father closed with the words that would set the tone for all his colleagues in government that would be given throughout the day. He said:
Everyone on that field is a public servant … We may have our differences, but we do well in times like these to remember that everyone who serves in our nation’s capital is here because, above all, they love our country. We can all agree that we are blessed to be Americans. That our children deserve to grow up in a nation of safety and peace. And that we are strongest when we are unified and when we work together for the common good. Please take a moment today to cherish those you love and always remember those who serve and keep us safe. God bless them all. God bless you. And, God bless America. (Trump, 2017, mins. 3:05-4:15).
President Trump’s words gave direction to his colleagues and to his country regarding the path that they must take. These sentiments were echoed shortly in a prayer given by the House Chaplin, the Reverend Patrick J. Conroy, “May Republicans and Democrats be mindful of the rare companionship which they share… and today the reminder of shared danger. May this day be characterized by goodwill, compassion and kindness, one to another…”. The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Paul Ryan, said, “An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us.” Later, the leader of the Democratic Party in the House, Nancy Pelosi, shared similar sentiments, “We are not one caucus or the other in this House today, but we speak for each other in saying that we send our thoughts and our prayers to our colleague Steve Scalese”, even quoting former President Kennedy, regarding her prayers for her colleagues throughout the years so that ultimately, “God’s work must truly be our own.”
Fathers give first – the sperm, the life, the seeds of love, ideas, imagination, and more. Research on fatherlessness has dominated the fields of psychology, sociology, and theology for decades as societies grapple with what sometimes appears to be a lost generation because of the absence of their fathers. Research by Walter Mischel demonstrated how the social context predicted the decisions that people made and their behavioural outcomes far more than a stable personality trait. Other statistics published by the US Department of Health, the Center for Disease Control, and the National Principals Association Report from the late 1980s and later, indicate that fatherlessness accounts for 63% of all youth suicides, 90% of all homeless and runaway children, 85% of all children who show behaviour disorders, 80% of rapists with anger problems, 71% of all high school dropouts. Statistics by the US Department of Justice revealed that fatherlessness accounts for 70% of the youths in state-operated institutions and local prison statistics from the Texas Department of Corrections suggests that fatherlessness accounts for 85% of all incarcerated youths. Additionally, 75% of all adolescent patients in centres for the treatment of chemical abuse are from fatherless homes. Columbia University researchers discovered that youth who live in two-parent homes and have a poor relationship with their fathers have a 68% chance of abusing drugs and alcohol, and smoking compared to all youth in two-parent homes. If a teen is from a single mother household, that probability increases by 30%. Fatherlessness in Massachusetts (Massachusetts Family Institute, 2014) illustrated the costs of fatherlessness in the Commonwealth in terms of the increasing poverty, academic underachievement, crime, violence, pregnancy and the tax burden. Marche (2014) also said that “American fatherlessness is a national disaster and, according to the latest research into its effects, more of a disaster than anybody could have imagined.”
However, the situation is not irredeemable. Fathers send messages to their children even without speaking a word. Simply being present in their children’s lives, and being at home, significantly reduces the maladaptive behaviours exhibited by children who do not hear their father’s speak critically to them. Statistics confirm that when fathers are present and involved, their children are 40% less likely to repeat a grade in school, 70% less likely to drop out of school, more likely to get A’s and engage in extracurricular activities at school.
All of us at one time or another have longed to hear our father’s speak to us at a critical moment just like President Trump spoke to the USA on the morning of June 14, 2017. My Dad is gone, so I only have surrogates now, but I remember what he taught me by being present in my life. He taught me about family, responsibility, work, respect, love, duty, and commitment. He taught me to go the extra mile, because he always asked me “Where is the extra 10%?” if I brought home a 90% on my report card. As I grew up, I realized it was less about the missing 10% and more about the commitment to succeeding for your team, for your family, for your children. It was about maximizing on the benefits that he worked hard to provide so that we could go farther and do more for ourselves and for others. In his simplicity, he forced me to think critically. His minimalist approach to words has contributed to my maximization of their impact today as I have developed with the help of teachers the ability to express the lessons that I learned from him.
So for all of us who need to hear Dad speak this Father’s Day, I have selected a few quotable quotes so that we can think about our world and our place in it.
“Don’t be afraid to give up the good to go for the great” – John D. Rockefeller.
My father used to say that it’s never too late to do anything you wanted to do. And he said, ‘You never know what you can accomplish until you try.’ – Michael Jordan
My father used to say superior people never make long visits. Marianne Moore
My father used to say, “You would worry less about what people think if you knew how little they did”. – Dr. Phil McGraw
My father used to say, ‘You can spend a lot of time making money. The tough time comes when you have to give it away properly.’ How to give something back, that’s the tough part in life. – Lee Iacocca
“My father used to say, ‘Well Ann, maybe the best thing you’ll ever do, you haven’t even thought of yet’.” – Ann Curry
My father always used to say, “Don’t raise your voice. Improve your argument” – Desmond Tutu
My father always used to say that when you die, if you’ve got five real friends, then you’ve had a great life. – Lee Iacocca
If you think about it, these Dad’s gave their children thoughts. They spoke their wisdom in teachable moments that forever shaped the way that they look at life, evaluate people, and contribute to their world.
Happy Father’s Day to every Dad who will read this blog and all their children who have grown up to be better dads. Thanks for your contributions in the past. Thanks for your courage of today. Thanks for your blessings for an amazing future. If you dream, we will dream with you. Happy Father’s Day Everyday!