Why fathers matter

One father is more than a hundred school-masters.

George HerbertA few generations ago, fathers were taken for granted by society at large. It was popular in some quarters to portray them as the invisible members of the family, useful for providing a family's finances and occasionally some advice, but not necessarily involved in rearing the children. And by all means, they should be kept out of the kitchen.

No longer. Our culture changed, and many fathers really did become invisible, in fact absent, from many homes. And society now understands just how crucial fathers are. It's been a hard, tough lesson.

Last year in time for Father's Day, a coalition of leaders involved in the country's fatherhood movement issued "A Call to Fatherhood" in which they outlined in stark terms just how serious the situation had become. They said, "Today's mass separation of American fathers from their children is historically unprecedented. . . . Never before have so many children grown up without knowing what it means to have a father."

They cited figures that nearly 40 percent of all American children do not live with their fathers. "Before they reach age 18, more than half of all U.S. children will spend at least a significant part of their childhood living apart from their fathers."

They said two reasons account for this sad situation: Unwed childbearing and divorce. "The spread of fatherlessness in our generation is a profound social crisis and a legitimate cause for alarm."

These statements will sound familiar to members of the Church, whose prophets for generations have been warning that it is folly to take fathers out of the home. Most recently, President Gordon B. Hinckley told a conference of the National Association of Colored People, "In far too many cases, families of all races have been denied leadership, the leadership of a good and devoted father who stands at the side of an able and kindly mother."

President Hinckley lamented the scourge of teen pregnancy, and of the failure by many young men who are responsible for fathering children to step up to the added responsibility of helping to rear them. That leaves many single mothers who have little education with an enormous burden. Many will struggle alone throughout their lives to rear their children.

Why is a father so important? President Hinckley mentioned a few reasons: A good father will be involved in quietly training, gently disciplining and prayerfully helping the children for whom he and his wife are responsible. "No one else can so effectively teach children the value of education, of the dead-end nature of street gangs, and of the miracle of self-esteem, which can change their lives for good," he said. The father is the provider, the defender, the counselor and the friend, he added.

The National Fatherhood Initiative noted: "Being a good father is part of being a righteous man." It adds, "The truth is that the contributions fathers make to the well-being of children are unique and irreplaceable."

In its Proclamation on the Family, the Church notes that fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners. Fortunately, even as the number of families without a father was growing, we have evidence that the role of fathers within families has also changed profoundly.

Today's fathers are far more likely to share the tasks of childrearing than were those of a generation ago. Fathers have changed their behavior. A study by the Families and Work Institute says that a generation ago, men put in only 30 percent as much time on workday chores as women. That figure is up to 75 percent. That's great progress, but men are still doing only three-fourths as many everyday chores as women.

This latest survey also found that working fathers were spending more time doing things with their children than on themselves, another major change. A happy result of this is that today's children are getting somewhat more attention from their parents who work than did the last generation. That's good news for families with a father present.

But what if the father isn't around to give that help? Our hearts go out to those single mothers, who for whatever reason, do not have a father at home to share their burden of rearing children. Theirs is a difficult and lonely road; they deserve not only our moral support, but our time, help and gratitude.

As Father's Day approaches, we should heed President Hinckley's advice to turn to the Lord in prayer for guidance. "I submit that what is needed is that motivating and powerful spiritual inspiration which is real and which can come into the lives of those who seek it," he told the NAACP.

Subscribe for free and get daily or weekly updates straight to your inbox
The three things you need to know everyday
Highlights from the last week to keep you informed