This Father’s Day comes at a particularly poignant moment for our country. Many of our cities are experiencing levels of violence not seen nationwide since the 1960s. Our society seems to be fraying in increasingly undeniable ways. Much of the chaos can be traced back to a primary cause: the lack of fathers, particularly for young men.
No matter where you are on earth, wherever fathers and sons are alienated from one another—or wherever there are no fathers—you will find young men trapped in cycles of violence, depression, and nihilism. In America, where approximately 73 percent of black children are born to unwed parents, the lack of fathers often leads to the formation of gangs, which are attempts by young men to form a brotherhood in which their masculinity is defined and justified.
Likewise, you will rarely find as nihilistic and empty a soul as those who live in middle-class neighborhoods where fathers either don’t engage with their sons, or simply care about other things—like their career, “keeping up with the Joneses” and the like.
At the heart of America’s crisis is a spiritual, intellectual, and virtue crisis, and this is precisely where fathers are essential to the formation of their children. While there can be no doubt that there are many heroic single mothers who, against all odds, have raised fantastic children, the plain reality is that fathers are irreplaceable, and necessary. The social science on this could not be clearer.
Furthermore, a good example is important, but a father’s example will not yield its full fruit with his sons unless he actively trains them as well.
Therefore, on this Father’s Day, I am pondering some examples of such fatherhood from history, and in particular with respect to two areas where many young men today receive very little, if any, formation from their fathers: morality and religion, and other virtues connected with industriousness and preparing to raise families.
On Morality and Religion
One of the greatest examples of fatherly advice on morality and religion is American founder John Adams. Throughout his years of service to our country, he wrote a series of letters to his children (who were sometimes with him, sometimes not) that articulate the importance of religion and morality to their growth as persons. For example, in 1776, he wrote his wife Abigail on the formation of their children in this way:
“Take care that they don’t go astray. Cultivate their minds, inspire their littles hearts, raise their wishes. Fix their attention upon great and glorious objects, root out every little thing, weed out every meanness, make them great and manly. Teach them to scorn injustice, ingratitude, cowardice, and falsehood. Let them revere nothing but religion, morality and liberty.”
And to his son John Quincy Adams—who would go on to become Secretary of State and President, among other things—he wrote of the preeminent important of a good conscience:
“But, my dear Boy, above all Things, preserve your Innocence, and a pure Conscience. Your morals are of more importance, both to yourself and the World than all Languages and all Sciences. The least Stain upon your Character will do more harm to your Happiness than all Accomplishments will do it good.”
John Quincy would go on to live a life that epitomized these truths, for he was known as a man of inflexible integrity, no matter the costs.
Finally, men today are rarely taught the importance of preparing to raise a family, along with all the virtues required to do so—virtues like hard work, physical fitness, competence in a skill or trade, and the like.
In this regard, I recall the example of President Teddy Roosevelt. In a 1901 speech entitled “Manhood and Statehood,” for example, he said the following:
“This country cannot afford to have its sons less than men; but neither can it afford to have them other than good men. If courage and strength and intellect are unaccompanied by the moral purpose, the moral sense, they become merely forms of expression for unscrupulous force and unscrupulous cunning. If the strong man has not in him the lift toward lofty things, his strength makes him only a curse to himself and to his neighbor.”
Likewise, he wrote of the necessity of virtue to authentic masculinity, and the necessity of authentic masculinity to the civic life of the United States:
“Of course no one quality makes a good citizen, and no one quality will save a nation. But there are certain great qualities for the lack of which no amount of intellectual brilliancy or of material prosperity or easiness of life can atone, and which show decadence and corruption in the nation, just as much if they are produced by selfishness and coldness and ease-loving laziness among the comparatively poor people as they are produced by vicious or frivolous luxury in the rich.
If the men of the nation are not anxious to work in many different ways, with all their might and strength, and ready and able to fight at need, and anxious to be fathers of families…why, that nation has cause to be alarmed about its future.
There is no physical trouble among us Americans. The trouble with the situation is one of character, and therefore we can conquer it if we only will.”
President Roosevelt knew that “poverty is a bitter thing; but it is not as bitter as the existence of restless vacuity and physical, moral, and intellectual flabbiness, to which those doom themselves who elect to spend their years in that vainest of all vain pursuits—the pursuit of mere pleasure as a sufficient end in itself.”
When we cursorily examine the fatherly advice of great men like John Adams and Teddy Roosevelt, we can’t help but immediately perceive that such fatherly guidance is oftentimes absent today. This Father’s Day, I hope we ponder this absence and consider ways in which we—as fathers, as sons, as men—may overcome this deficiency for the sake of current and future generations.
Joshua Charles is a historian, speaker, and #1 New York Times bestselling author of several books. His work has been featured or published by outlets such as Fox News, The Federalist, The Jerusalem Post, The Blaze, and many others. He has published books on topics ranging from the Founding Fathers, to Israel, to the impact of the Bible on human history. He was the senior editor and concept developer of the “Global Impact Bible,” published by the DC-based Museum of the Bible in 2017, and is an affiliated scholar of the Faith and Liberty Discovery Center in Philadelphia. He is a Tikvah and Philos Fellow, and has spoken around the country on topics such as history, politics, faith, and worldview. He is a concert pianist, holds an MA in Government, and a law degree. Follow him on Twitter @JoshuaTCharles or see JoshuaTCharles.com