by Dr. Mark Hendrickson
This isn’t going to be one of those sentimental Father’s Day articles, even though that is what I would prefer. This article will have a bit of an edge to it. Please excuse my bluntness, but fatherhood is serious business, and for me to sugarcoat or evade the truth about it would benefit nobody.
Here goes: What does my peculiar title mean? Aren’t all fathers men? No, they are not. All fathers are male, but not all fathers are men. Maleness is a biological identity, a physical reality, a matter of hormones and organs. Manliness, on the other hand, is a matter of character, an intangible quality, a demonstrated achievement of maturity that not all adult males attain.
Several years ago, I wrote about an appalling situation in our country—the fact that the second leading cause of death of pregnant women in the U.S. is homicide, usually perpetrated by the father of the unborn child. Some males are so selfish and antisocial that they reduce their lover to an object that they will destroy rather than allow her to give birth to the precious life that they have conceived together.
It is a socioeconomic fact that one of the two leading causes of long-term poverty in America is for women to bear children out of wedlock. (The other leading cause is failing to complete high school.) For a male to use a lover for a few moments of pleasure and then abandon her to a lifetime of poverty because he doesn’t want the responsibilities of fatherhood is cruelly selfish. Don’t do it, fellows.
Fatherhood is one of life’s most momentous choices. Males can become men by accepting the responsibilities of fatherhood, by marrying and committing themselves to full-time partnership in raising, teaching, and financially supporting their offspring. Alternatively, males can opt for bachelorhood, “freedom” (from responsibility) and let their lover bear the psychological and financial cost of intimacy.
Let us salute the fathers who are men—those who have accepted the responsibilities of raising their children. These are the men who become genuine dads to their children—loving them, spending their hard-earned pay on them, and most importantly of all, being there for them both in times of joy and times of need.
I can vouch for the irreplaceable role a dad plays in a child’s life. “Pop,” my uncle, gave my mother and me a home in the absence of my biological father. Pop was a man in the fullest sense of the word—hardworking, unselfish, and always willing to serve above and beyond the call of duty. In addition to giving more than a decade of his life in hazardous military and military-related service to his country (no desk jobs for Pop!), he also committed himself to raising me. Many males would have balked at raising another man’s son. Pop’s thought process would have been this (he never told me, but I know how he thought): Here’s a boy who, through no fault of his own doesn’t have a father; his mother, my sister-in-law, even though we don’t get along, has neither the income nor skill set nor emotional capability to raise him by herself; ergo, they’ll live with us and I’ll help raise the boy.
The dear teacher I had for first and second grades, Mrs. Talley, told me years later that I was rather undisciplined and unfocused during most of my two years as her pupil. Pop was gone then. He was working in the bleak Arctic, superintending construction of the DEW (Distant Early Warning) Line—the string of radar installations at the northern extreme of North America. According to Mrs. Talley, as soon as Pop’s work was completed and he returned home, I shaped up. Pop set the tone. He enforced standards of right and wrong, and he demanded that I meet his expectations of me. The result? I started to fulfill my potential.
For some men, being a full-time dad to children is the greatest joy in life. For others, it isn’t easy. But to each good man who sticks it out, who loves his children and helps to raise them, you have earned our respect and appreciation. Your work as a dad has blessed your children and strengthened our society. Happy Father’s Day, men!
Dr. Mark W. Hendrickson is an adjunct faculty member, economist, and fellow for economic and social policy with The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College.