Rational folks know Father’s Day isn’t about gifts or gadgets, even though Americans are expected to spend a record-breaking $16 billion on presents for Dad this year.
So if it’s not for ties and grills, then what? Is it a celebration of bumbling, half-wit sitcom fathers?
Is it a day for praising the paunchy figurehead forever consigned to wearing mustard polos and embarrassing his children in front of their friends?
Is it a day for putting the “muscle” back in “masculine”? (Never mind the grammatical flaw in that proposition — who thinks fatheres can spell, anyway?)
Contrary to stereotypes, true fatherhood — perpetually mocked and oft misunderstood — can be a balm for society’s boils, and it’s time it receives the esteem such a calling warrants.
Consider the century-and-a-half-old inspiration for Father’s Day, William Jackson Smart. He was a twice-married, twice-widowered Civil War veteran who raised 14 kids as a single dad. Try fitting that into society’s boxes.
One of his daughters, Sonora Smart Dodd, recognized his courageous love and embarked on a crusade to honor other fathers like him through a national holiday. She succeeded in 1972, six years before she died and half a century after she started.
Dodd remembered her dad as “both father and mother to me and my brothers and sisters,” and said he was a “good home person.” He didn’t derive his worth from a golf score or a paycheck. He devoted himself to a family in need of a present father.
He couldn’t have known at the time, but vast bodies of research would later justify his care. Fathering scholar David Eggebeen writes, “Literally, hundreds of studies over the past two decades have consistently demonstrated that fathers have a measurable impact on children.”
Close father-child relationships are linked to empathy, happiness and relationship quality in adulthood. Conversely, absent fathers correlate with increased incarceration rates for adolescents.
Children raised in a home with their married fathers are “markedly less likely to be abused or assaulted than children living without their own father,” according to family researchers Brad Wilcox and Robin Fretwell Wilson. And multiple studies find associations between present fathers and better educational outcomes in children.
But not everyone has such a role model. Ninety-two percent of incarcerated parents are fathers, and stale media portrayals of fatherhood neglect the loving, tender and supportive sides of masculinity, opting for more toxic depictions of bullying, brawn and blockheadedness.11 comments on this story
Reclaiming fatherhood from the grips of Hollywood would prove an immeasurable boon to our communities. Love, sacrifice and devotion raises up the next generation — principles countless fathers around the country live every day. Their underrepresentation is to society’s detriment.
In lobbying for a national holiday, Dodd leveraged four tenets of fatherhood built from her Protestant faith: “The father’s place is in the home; the training of children; the safeguarding of the marriage tie; the protection of womanhood and childhood.”
Some may dismiss that as quaint. Others will blast it for threatening egalitarian gains. Still, it describes true fatherhood more closely than any stereotype today, and America needs more of it.