Years ago, my wife and I operated a mail-order company selling books to homeschooling families. During the spring and summer, we also traveled to homeschool book fairs, peddling our wares directly to customers.
At these gatherings, I was an occasional speaker, usually instructing parents on the topic of teaching Latin at home.
I was in Atlanta for one of these fairs, which if memory serves was the weekend before Father’s Day, when one of the organizers of the convention explained that the speaker on the topic “Dad in the Homeschool” had fallen ill and asked if I could address fathers the following day. I agreed, put together some thoughts, and the next afternoon, spoke to an audience of about 30 dads with a sprinkling of moms.
Unlike my Latin talks, this occasion allowed me to look at masculine virtues and ways to put them into action in school and in family life in general.
Typically, these sessions were recorded, and attendees could buy tapes of lectures they’d missed or wanted to hear again. Though I rarely bought a copy of my own talks—I’m not fond of my voice, and the Latin lectures were standard—I purchased my “dad” tape and popped it into the cassette player in my car on my way home.
Somehow, the audio technicians had goofed up. My voice was two octaves higher than normal, and I was delivering my remarks at a machine-gun style clip. That high-pitched, rapid-fire voice made me sound like Donald Duck.
That incident might serve as a strange metaphor for the way our society all too often mocks fatherhood.
If we look back 50 or 60 years, we see television shows celebrating dads: “Father Knows Best,” “Leave It to Beaver,” “Bonanza,” “The Waltons,” “Little House on the Prairie.” The fathers in these shows supported their families and loved their children and wives. Even in the 1980s, programs like “Family Ties” and “Growing Pains” cast fathers in a positive light.
Since then, fathers have become television’s punching bags. Advertisements portray them as dolts, buffoons so inept they couldn’t change a light bulb. Popular sitcom cartoons like “The Simpsons” and “Family Guy” give us dads who are bumbling, clueless slobs.
Sometimes, these same caricatures even appear in children’s books. An example: My children loved for me to read aloud from the Berenstain Bear books, but I came to loathe these stories in which Mama Bear is the fount of wisdom and Papa Bear is more a child than a father.
Masculinity, Fatherhood, and Family
Meanwhile, for the past 20 years or more, manhood itself has come under attack in universities and some major corporations. To be male, and particularly a white male, is to belong to the “patriarchy.” Our culture, our embrace in some instances of extreme feminism, and the errant behavior of some men have diminished the old ideals of fatherhood—a certain amount of stoicism and grit, provider for the family, defender of his wife and children.
This diminution of fatherhood is a flanking attack on the family itself. By undermining the role of fatherhood—“A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle” comes to mind—the importance of the family as a basic building block of culture and society shrinks.
That mom and dad bring different skills to child-rearing and that fathers play an important part in childhood development should be obvious even to a casual observer. One small example: Once, long ago, I watched a report on television—was it “60 Minutes?”—in which researchers stationed themselves in a public park and filmed parents encouraging their apprehensive children to go down a sliding board. The moms offered to hold the hands of the frightened toddlers or allowed them to climb down the ladder while the dads stood at the bottom of the slide, shouting encouragement, clapping their hands, and insisting the child make the slide.
So what can we do to strengthen fatherhood, to give it the due it once received?
Changing Our Approach
First, we can stop our attacks on manhood. I’ve heard good women slam their husbands or boyfriends, or men in general, with chauvinistic remarks as pointed and stereotypical of any attributed to men when “male chauvinism” came under fire 50 years ago. Those assaults should come to an end.
Furthermore, we can quit listening to, and using the language of, social scientists and academics who want to feminize men and who decry even ordinary male behavior as toxic masculinity. We can reject theories that claim no differences exist between men and women, and use our common sense to recognize and celebrate those differences.
Copycatting Good Dads
We can next express our appreciation of the good fathers we see around us. Maybe we were blessed with a loving father when we were young. Maybe our father was cruel, hardhearted, or a drunkard. Maybe he was a deadbeat dad who deserted the family. Some of us may not even know our father at all.
Whatever the case, we can see dads around us who love their wives and children, who get up and go to work every morning to provide for them, who offer their kids guidance into adulthood both by word and by example. A good number of dads I know fit this description, fathers with four, five, or six children who relish the role they are playing in their children’s lives, coaching their sports teams, taking them on hikes and canoe trips, and living out their religious faith.
One man here in Front Royal, Virginia, teaches art at the school attended by his older children; another in Pennsylvania instructs his son and his classmates in woodworking; yet another, a dad in England whom I encountered while interviewing his homeschooling wife, is the leader of a Royal Marines Cadets outfit, where his older three daughters have won numerous awards.
So even if we grew up under the thumb of a terrible father, we can find figures for emulation in the fathers around us. For single moms with sons, finding such men as models is particularly important.
Make Father’s Day Special
We’re going through some tough times in our country right now. When I watch videos of the rioters and looters, most of those smashing store windows, looting, and setting fires, I notice their youth and would guess the majority of them grew up without the influence of a strong, good dad to teach them right from wrong.
On this Father’s Day, we have the chance to thank these men who do teach their sons about values and virtues, to tell them how much we appreciate who and what they are, and the good they bring to this world. My own dad died two years ago, and I can honor him only by acts of remembrance, but I can call my sons and my son-in-law, all of whom are fathers themselves, and let them know how proud I am of their efforts to raise children who will become productive citizens and honorable adults.
For any dads reading this article who know both the responsibilities and joys of fatherhood, here’s a raised glass to you, gentlemen. Keep up all your efforts. The world needs you more than you know.
Jeff Minick has four children and a growing platoon of grandchildren. For 20 years, he taught history, literature, and Latin to seminars of homeschooling students in Asheville, N.C. Today, he lives and writes in Front Royal, Va. See JeffMinick.com to follow his blog.