Posts tagged ‘Fatherhood’

In Praise of Fathers

Father Daughter

Just in time for Father’s Day this Sunday comes a new study detailing the impact fathers have on their daughters’ behavior patterns.  In an online article published in Developmental Psychology, researchers from the Universities of Utah and Albany “compared the outcomes of older and younger full biological sisters who experienced the divorce or separation of their parents while growing up, and thus spent differing amounts of time living with their fathers.”  They found that “when fathering was high quality…older sisters were less likely to affiliate with sexually risky peers during adolescence compared to their younger sisters” because they had more time with their fathers pre-divorce than did their younger siblings post-divorce.

This research is sobering, but it is not particularly surprising.  The profoundly formative effect fathers have on their children has been well-documented.  This study serves as both an encouragement for fathers and a challenge to fathers.  It serves as an encouragement for fathers because it is a yet another reminder that they matter – greatly.  In a culture that has enclaves that can, at times, belittle, disparage, and minimize the roles men play in families and in society, this study reminds us of the blessing of dads.  It reminds us that fathers, by how they treat their daughters when they are little, can shape their daughters’ expectations and views of men as they grow up.  But this study also presents a challenge to fathers.  In an age when far too many men make children but do not raise them, this study is a clarifying indictment of the steep price that a man’s absence can incur on his children.  This must change.

In a society that obsesses over personal autonomy and choice, fatherhood is a countercultural sacrifice and call.  Fatherhood compels men to sacrifice many of their freedoms and hobbies for the sake of loving, providing for, and raising their children.  And whether the call of fatherhood comes expectedly or unexpectedly, it should and must be answered wholeheartedly, regardless of whether or not a man feels he’s ready to be a dad.

Many men I know are quite competitive.  They have a desire to beat those who are strong by being even stronger themselves.  Fatherhood, instead of pushing men to be stronger than the strong, invites men to be tender with the vulnerable – their children.  Fatherhood calls for a strength that does not conquer, but loves.  And this is the highest strength of all.  Which is why fathers are worth celebrating.

June 12, 2017 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

The Art of Manliness

Victorian Men“I see some men that are men in mind and body and a great many that are only men in body.”[1]  So said a Union soldier who fought in the Civil War.

In her book, The Gentlemen and the Roughs, Lorien Foote, professor of history of Texas A&M University, outlines two distinct types of masculinity prevalent during the Civil War.  One was a gentlemanly type of masculinity, centered on self-control, character, and faithfulness.  This type of masculinity embodied what we might think of today as “the family man.”  The other type of masculinity was that of the “roughs” – those who are “rough around the edges,” so to speak.  This type of masculinity focused on physical domination and sexual exploitation.

Writing for The New York Times, David Brooks outlines these same two types of masculinities when he writes:

The ideal man, at least in polite society, gracefully achieves a series of balances. He is steady and strong, but also verbal and vulnerable. He is emotionally open and willing to cry, but also restrained and resilient. He is physical, and also intellectual.

Today’s ideal man honors the women in his life in whatever they want to do. He treats them with respect in the workplace and romance in the bedroom. He is successful in the competitive world of the marketplace but enthusiastic in the kitchen and gentle during kids’ bath time.

This new masculine ideal is an unalloyed improvement on all the earlier masculine ideals. It’s a great achievement of our culture. But it is demanding and involves reconciling a difficult series of tensions. And it has sparked a bad-boy protest movement and counterculture.[2]

Brooks’ “new masculine ideal” is not really all that new.  It shares much in common with the older masculine ideal of what it means to be a gentleman.  Foote, in her book, writes about Francis Lieber, a nineteenth century political philosopher who outlined some rules for warfare that eventually came to serve as the basis for the Geneva Convention.  Along with rules for warfare, Lieber also outlined traits essential to being a gentleman that included “self-possession,” “calmness of mind,” “a studious avoidance of giving offense to others,” and a refusal to indulge “in careless vulgarity, unmanly exaggeration, or violent coarseness.”  The New York Illustrated News, in a fawning review of Lieber’s gentlemanly characteristics, wrote, “Let us have a new chivalry instituted – a new order of intellectual and moral knighthood.”[3]  Lieber’s ideal masculinity was nothing short of a perfectly balanced chivalry that shares much, though not everything, in common with Brooks’ “new masculine ideal.”

There is much for us, as Christians, to learn from these two types of masculinity.  Although neither comports perfectly with what it means to be a Christian man, one certainly comports better.  A masculinity that is crude, sexually exploitive, and ostentatious not only does not make a man, it hurts a man because it is flatly sinful.  On the other hand, masculinity cannot simply be reduced to a list of traits, as Lieber and Brooks attempt to do, no matter how virtuous those traits may be.  After all, not every man is the same, so different men will inevitably display different traits, and not every life situation calls for the same masculine characteristics.  Ultimately, to be a Christian man is much more about living out a vocation – a divine calling – than it is about living up to a checklist of virtues that inevitably changes, both in content and in emphasis, with each successive generation.  To be a Christian man means to reflect Christ.  To hearken back to the Union solider quoted at the beginning of this blog, being a man is not about only your body biologically, it is also about your mind.  You can be a man in body without being a man whose mind has been renewed by Christ (cf. Romans 12:2).

In his column, David Brooks’ concern lies in how faulty masculinities affect the political arena.  He notes that in this election cycle, there has been “a revolution in manners, a rejection of the civility codes.”  This is certainly true and it is certainly troublesome.  But what is even more troublesome is not how faulty masculinities affect our politics, but how they affect our families.  Study after study has shown how men who reject their vocation to reflect Christ adversely affect their families.  Faulty masculinities do not just plague national elections, they plague your neighbors down the street.  And, if you’re really honest, they may even plague you.

So gentlemen – and I hope you do fashion yourself as and aspire to be gentlemen – the next time are tempted toward a masculinity that does not reflect your Savior, remember, to quote one more time from David Brooks, “This is the world your daughters are going to grow up in.”

That alone should be enough to make you stop and think.

__________________________

[1] Cited in Lorien Foote, The Gentlemen and the Roughs:  Violence, Honor, and Manhood in the Union Army (New York:  New York University Press, 2010), 3.

[2] David Brooks, “The Sexual Politics of 2016,” The New York Times (3.29.2016).

[3] Lorien Foote, The Gentlemen and the Roughs, 55.

April 4, 2016 at 5:15 am 1 comment

For Fathers Only

Father and Son“Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).

These famous words from the apostle Paul are meant to call fathers to Godliness as they raise their children.  Negatively, fathers are not to “exasperate,” or anger, their children needlessly or vindictively.  Positively, they are to “bring them up,” or rear them, in the Lord.  The Greek word for “bring them up” is ektrepho, meaning, “to feed.”  Fathers are to feed their children.  But this means much more than simply “bringing home the bacon,” as it were.  This also means feeding children’s souls with time, affection, discipline, and grace.

Sadly, this call to fatherhood is lost on far too many men in our society.  And the effects are devastating.

Kay Hymowitz, writing for the City Journal, a quarterly affairs journal for Manhattan, recently published an article titled “Boy Trouble”[1] in which she attributes much of the dismal performance in school, in jobs, and in life of a great number of boys to absentee fathers.  In other words, fathers who fail to bring their children up in the training and instruction of the Lord because of their non-presence have a profoundly negative impact on their children.  Hymowitz expounds:

By the 1970s and eighties, family researchers following the children of the divorce revolution noticed that, while both girls and boys showed distress when their parents split up, they had different ways of showing it. Girls tended to “internalize” their unhappiness: they became depressed and anxious, and many cut themselves, or got into drugs or alcohol. Boys, on the other hand, “externalized” or “acted out”: they became more impulsive, aggressive, and “antisocial.” Both reactions were worrisome, but boys’ behavior had the disadvantage of annoying and even frightening classmates, teachers, and neighbors. Boys from broken homes were more likely than their peers to get suspended and arrested. Girls’ unhappiness also seemed to ease within a year or two after their parents’ divorce; boys’ didn’t.

Since then, externalizing by boys has been a persistent finding in the literature about the children of single-parent families. In one well-known longitudinal study of children of teen mothers (almost all of them unmarried), University of Pennsylvania sociologist Frank Furstenberg, a dean of family research, found “alarmingly high levels of pathology among the males.” They had more substance abuse, criminal activity, and prison time than the few boys in the study who had grown up in married-couple families.

Hymowitz goes on to consider some of the ways in which societies have sought to compensate for absentee fathers.  Some societies have tried to provide robust social support programs, ensuring single mothers have all the financial resources they need to give their sons opportunities that will serve them well.  But these social support programs have not stemmed the tide of troubled, fatherless boys.  Others have tried to encourage male role modeling in the form of coaches, teachers, and even stepfathers.  But the problem remains.  Indeed, Hymowitz cites one study done on boys who were raised by their stepfathers and notes that these boys were “even more at risk of incarceration than the single-mom cohort.”

Finally, Hymowitz reaches an inevitable, even if unsurprising, conclusion:  “Girls and boys have a better chance at thriving when their own father lives with them and their mother throughout their childhood—and for boys, this is especially the case.”  A household needs a father.

Please understand that I do not mean to belittle or disparage the contributions that mothers – and especially single mothers – make to a household.  Indeed, I know and have known many faithful single mothers who do all they can to raise their children faithfully, compassionately, and evangelically with great success.  To them, I say, “Thank you.”  I am saying to men, however:  You are needed.  The stakes are high.  You cannot afford you to be derelict in your duties toward your families. 

So get with it.  Heed the call of the apostle Paul.  You have more influence than you may ever know.  Which means you have more responsibility than you could ever dream.  Take that responsibility seriously. Little eyes are watching.


[1] Kay Hymowitz, “Boy Trouble,” City Journal 23, no. 4 (Autumn 2013).

January 6, 2014 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


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