The importance of a godly father in the home is nearly impossible to overestimate. As the leader of his family, the father sets the tone for his wife and children. The Lord recognized this when he said of Abraham, “For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just, so that the Lord will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him” (Gen. 18:19). We are proud of the many wonderful fathers we have here at Pleasant Valley, and we honor you on this day. We also encourage those who will one day become fathers and urge you to give serious thought to the great responsibility fatherhood requires. In his book Fatherless America, David Blankenhorn says some things that are worth listening to about why we need to uphold the idea of fatherhood.
The most urgent domestic challenge facing the United States at the close of the twentieth century is the re-creation of fatherhood as a vital social role for men. At stake is nothing less than the success of the American experiment. For unless we reverse the trend of fatherlessness, no other set of accomplishments ― not economic growth or prison construction or welfare reform or better schools ― will succeed in arresting the decline of child well-being and the spread of male violence. To tolerate the trend of fatherlessness is to accept the inevitability of continued societal recession.
Many voices today urge us to accept the decline of fatherhood with equanimity. Be realistic, they tell us. Divorce and out-of-wedlock childbearing are here to stay. Growing numbers of children will not have fathers. Nothing can be done to reverse the trend itself. The only solution is to remediate some of its consequences. More help for poor children. More sympathy for single mothers. Better divorce. More child-support payments. More prisons. More programs aimed at substituting for fathers.
Yet what Lincoln called the better angels of our nature has always guided us in the opposite direction. Passivity in the face of crisis is inconsistent with the American expertise. In the inevitable and valuable tension between conditions and aspirations – between social “is” and the moral “ought” – our birthright as Americans has always been our confidence that we can change for the better.
Does every child deserve a father? Our current answer hovers between “no” and “not necessarily.” But we need not make permanent the lowering of our standards. We can change our minds. Moreover, we can change our minds without passing new laws, spending more tax dollars, or empaneling more expert commissions. Once we change our philosophy, we may well decide to pass laws, create programs, or commission research. But the first and most important thing to change is not our policies but our ideas.
Our essential goal must be the rediscovery in modern society of the fatherhood idea. Malinowski called it the “principle of legitimacy.” For every child, a legally and morally responsible adult male. Others have described this idea as the imperative of paternal investment, achieved through a parental alliance with the mother. A more familiar name for such activity is married fatherhood.
The essence of the fatherhood idea is simple. A father for every child. But in our society, few ideas could be more radical. Embracing the fatherhood idea would require a fundamental shift in cultural values and in parental behavior. No other changes in U.S. family life could produce such dramatic improvement in child and societal well-being.
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