“Fathers’ Day” is a rather common phrase around the courthouse. A representative of the Attorney General’s Office appears at least once a month to deal with child support cases involving failure to pay. As a general rule, the parent being sued is the father. On these particular days, the downstairs hallway is lined with people waiting for their case to be called; some have reasons for their delinquency, others merely excuses or shrugs. Our use of the phrase in this manner is not really fair to the men who try diligently to be good male role models, the men Fathers’ Day was intended to honor.
Many of us can remember the “workaholic” dads. These were the fathers, not uncommon in my generation, who put in extremely long hours in an effort to have the American Dream for their families. They were determined that their children would not want for anything. As they entered their 60s and 70s, many have fallen victim to the strokes and heart problems often associated with a workaholic temperament. Nonetheless, few of us had any cause to complain. I vividly remember getting ready to go on my first Girl Scout campout. Rather than purchase a tent, I had the “shelter half” that had belonged to my father, as well as his “mummy style” sleeping bag (lined with a rough wool blanket!) He took the time to show me – in the living room! – how to set up the tent, roll my clothing and equipment in the sleeping bag, and wrap it all with the military style “jacket” that turned the whole set up into a back pack. I know now that, after taking the time to help me, he retired to the study with the work he brought home, and worked until the early hours of the morning. This was typical of the fathers of his generation.
Somewhere, we have started minimizing the importance of a male role model in the lives of children. While quick to hold them financially responsible, there is little push to encourage them to maintain responsibility as the child grows. One of the saddest (recurring!) entries in the social studies done by the Juvenile Office for the court in the comment that the father has not been involved with the child for several years. This entry is appearing with alarming frequency. Even more disturbing is the father who unabashedly comes to court, admits to living within 100 miles of the child, but has not seen him or her since the toddler years.
Studies show that this involvement is needed for boys and girls to grow into healthy adults. Boys learn to act like men by imitating the men they see and admire. This can be sports figures, with the drawbacks that we know from the papers, or it can be the men in their families. Boys who learn to admire violent figures are more likely to consider violence acceptable behavior than their counterparts. Girls who grow to maturity with no father figure are more likely to become pregnant as teenagers than their counterparts. It appears that they see intimacy as the only affection that can be shown between members of the sexes. They often do not know how to relate to men, deal with them, much less understand them. As these confused children grow and have children of their own, the problems are often perpetrated and magnified.
Naturally, studies of this sort are not perfect. There are children who grow up without fathers who are well oriented and able to create a complete and happy family on their own. There are also those who mature with an active father who are unable to succeed. The presence of a father – as more than a disciplinarian, but also friend, confidant and coach for all sorts of things! – seems to increase the chance of a child staying in school, out of trouble, and realizing success in life. The mothers and extended families of those who grow to success from single parent homes certainly deserve congratulations.
While there is no way to insure that each home has a loving, concerned paternal parent, there are things that can be done to help children learn to appreciate the roles men play in our society, even when there is not a father in the home. There are many avenues that can be taken to show children that men can be positive influences in their lives and communities – teaching Sunday School, tutoring, and mentoring in other areas.
Sadly, good fathers are never appreciated as much as they should be while they are around. Many of us have discovered the pain of wishing we had told them of our love more often than we have. Eventually, it is too late. Those blessed enough to have caring fathers, uncles and grandfathers should, perhaps, take the time (more often than once a year!) to thank them for their lives. As a community, we need to thank those men who become “surrogate fathers” to those who do not have a positive male influence in their lives.
Lisa Peterson is the County Attorney for Nolan County. Comments about this column may be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org