A humorous illustration of a woman’s brain depicts it sectioned into compartments. The smaller, equal-size compartments are labeled food, shopping, shoes, talking with girlfriends and relationships with the opposite sex — all of which are dwarfed by one huge overriding compartment labeled “my mother.”
Relationships with mothers tend to be complex. They are powerful relationships that may inspire undying love and loyalty, or guilt and anger, or sometimes a curious mix of the aforementioned.
Relationships with fathers, although equally powerful, tend to be less complex. This is probably because fathers are prone to be less verbal. They not only use fewer words but are less likely to exercise a flair for drama, burst into tears, slam doors or hone a great martyr routine, hence leaving offspring with fewer good stories to retell.
Nevertheless, the relationship between father and child is critical. Social science research constantly underscores the blithely, or even intentionally, overlooked power of the father-child relationship.
A father who has a decent (note the word is decent, not perfect) relationship with his children is highly likely to raise children who have fewer behavior problems, graduate from high school, have a high sense of aspiration, delay becoming sexually active, stay on the right side of the law, do not engage in drug and alcohol abuse and are likely to have stable relationships as adults. A father involved in a child’s life isn’t an iron-clad guarantee of stability, but it’s real close.
Every time there is another senseless killing in our city, people appear on television camera, distraught, saying, “I don’t know what the answer is.”
The answer is nearly always fathers. Our out-of-wedlock birth rate is 40 percent and climbing. We’re not supposed to talk about such matters directly; it could be deemed insensitive. You know what’s insensitive? Intentionally leaving kids without a fundamental component of life for which they intrinsically ache. Insensitive is telling fathers that they are dispensable.
With all respect to trees, the air and fossil fuels, it is our dwindling supply of fathers that will one day render us unsustainable. Their increasing absence plays out in out in a million ways.
Carey Casey, CEO of the Center for Fathering, has served as chaplain for the Dallas Cowboys and the Kansas City Chiefs. He says many professional football players — strong, powerful, rich, handsome men — have said that when they run from the tunnel into a football stadium filled with 80,000 people, they would give anything to look up in the stands and for just one moment see their father looking down at them.
If fully grown men still feel the ache deep in their gut, how much greater must that longing be for children?
A father doesn’t have to be perfect. Mothers certainly aren’t. A good and decent father will do just fine. Such a man is far more than a meal ticket: He is a moral compass, a guide, a safe place, an encourager, a comforter, a shield against the storm.
Our sons and daughters don’t need perfect dads, but they do need dads who are present and engaged.
Lori Borgman is an Indianapolis columnist. Send comments to email@example.com.