What makes a good Father? Who decides?
Now the month of June to celebrate Father’s Day has arrived. However, reflecting on another one of life’s most important consumer-driven occasions has forced me to ask the question: What makes a good father? Who decides?
Fathers and mothers enter the child-rearing business at two different times; mothers decide to be mothers long before dads do. Yes, dad may be supportive and excited, but compared to mom `he’s an observer, that is until delivery time. Then dad’s world takes on new meaning. He looks into the face of the new life and is faced with the realization: “I’m the father of this child,” or “Am I the father of this child?”
You might call it a “delivery room discovery.”
At this juncture, a good dad (if he hasn’t been had) makes a big decision; he has to decide to become a father, and that decision sets up dominoes of decisions that he will make for the rest of his life.
From a personal standpoint, the question has taken on a degree of grave importance, especially since the definitions and expectations for fathers have changed dramatically over the years, moreso in current times. Nowadays, fathers with same sex partners are expected to be partners in the raising of their children.
Fathers qualify for parental leave and are not mocked for taking it, and stay at home fathers exist and are in that role out of choice rather than lack of job opportunity. So, let us pause and pay due homage to those fathers who have kept their commitments: respectfully honored their obligations, sacrificed and struggled to take care of their families, and have given rightful guidance in the good and time-tested ways of our ancestors.
Special homage should also be paid to those fathers who stayed steadfast in spite of the unfavorable circumstances existing around them. Appropriate sensitivity and support should also be shown to those fathers who have tried and tried, but have not been as successful, those who make good-faith efforts but, for reasons complex and compelling, cannot and do not always do as well.
A father is a man among men and a man among women; nevertheless, it should be pointed out that fatherhood is not a title that comes without responsibilities or expectations. Fatherhood requires a mutually respectful and supportive relationship with the mother of the child who, in the first place, caused you to become a father, for one cannot be a father in isolation (non-inclusion of a mother). The best fatherhood, whether in marriage, divorce or separation, is rooted in a complementary partnership with the mother.
Sadly, the nucleus of the family as we once knew it decades ago has become an endangered role model. Granted, while no man can be a perfect father, husband, leader or provider, when we examine some fathers we find a collection of men with lives full of broken relationships and inconsistent actions. There is no hard and fast formula for being a good father, or easy answers to be found on the Internet, at the barbershop, on radio and TV talk shows, nor simple solutions available in self-help manuals made for those designated “dummies.”
In similar manner of our celebration of noteworthy fathers, we must criticize wrong and unrighteous behavior, laxity, the loss of will, trifling, betrayal, dishonesty and destructive behavior, and then make a committed effort to work towards helping them turn their lives around.
In the Black community, in keeping with African tradition, a father is first and foremost a man in the most expansive sense of the word, this includes his recognition and respect for the process of becoming a man and the practice necessary to sustain it. Sadly, this facet is lacking in today’s males, as most fathers are not being models of the lives that they want their children to emulate. Thankfully, I am old enough to remember another world, one where fathers were wise, compassionate, firm and dedicated to their families. It was a world where the head of the household initiated sons in the mysteries of manhood and taught daughters the meaning of selfless love. They were fathers who led by example, fathers who didn’t have to take parenting classes to understand their responsibilities, fathers who were not afraid to discipline or to show their love, fathers who did not flee [their responsibilities].
On Father’s Day, all fathers, regardless of gender or sexual identity, should make a concerted effort with the mothers to wage a constant struggle for the hearts and minds of the children in their care, setting them on the path to a good, meaningful and balanced life.
And whether or not through divorce, or the maternal attitude, long working hours which modern day existence seems to demand more and more, fathers are becoming absent from their children’s lives. This is certainly a tragedy of our times in every sense of the word. And it brings us right back to the question: what makes a good father?
Father’s Day may be dismissed as a commercial construct, lacking the historical relevance of Mother’s Day. Be that as it may, if it encourages us to celebrate the vital role fathers play that that can only be seen as a good thing. In any case, just as children need parameters, all of us adults need yardsticks by which we could measure ourselves, and our lives.
Seeking to define what makes a ‘good’ father leads us towards a consideration of those responsibilities, which are greater than the self, and that have the power to strengthen the society we all inhabit. Of course, single mothers can be brilliant parents, and many divorced couples do construct stable lives for their children. However, that should not stop us from acknowledging that the ideal: families do need caring fathers and the male parental role should be re-evaluated as soon as possible.
When Father’s Day rolls around each year, I think of my own father. To him I owe the sum total of the person I am today. I miss him an awful lot, but I carry so much of his opinions and ideas with me that I feel he is still there. I will remain eternally grateful for all the good things he taught me and for his influence in my life.
In my opinion, a good father is somehow just there, always, a reassuring presence — even when he’s not there anymore, because of the rules of mortality, all you can do is hear his voice in your head.