One evening, as I surfed the television channels, I came across one of those comedy series usually referred to as a "sit-com." In this program, the father of the television family was portrayed as clueless, out of touch with everything and everyone around him, foolish, ignorant, and incapable of discussing anything intelligently. Such a character in television comedies is all too well known. It is my understanding that the television industry has a term for this character: "the doofus father."
Unfortunately, the doofus father image has deeply affected our society and convinced many that the father is simply a dispensable member of the family. Our society tends not to honor the father’s importance despite overwhelming statistics showing the powerful impact the father’s presence has in the family.
The love of the mother is vitally important to the welfare of a family. Much can be written about the mother’s love, far beyond the scope of this article. Her caring love has a way of holding a family together. At the same time, the father’s impact in the life of a child can be seen in a variety of measurable ways. Children raised without fathers are more likely to drop out of school, go to prison, smoke, use drugs, own a weapon, assault a teacher, get pregnant as teens, suffer from depression, and commit suicide.
The father’s impact reaches even into church attendance. In 1996 Weern Haug and Phillipe Warner of the Swiss Federal Statistic Office completed a study of church attendance. (The Swiss are about 44% Catholic and 40% Protestant.) The study concluded that, if both parents attend church regularly, 33% of their children will regularly attend church as adults. Only 25% of their adult children will not practice their religion at all.
But note this startling fact: if only the mother is regular in attending church, and the father attends irregularly, then only 3% of their adult children will attend church regularly, and 38% of their adult children will not practice their religion all. If the father never attends church, even if the mother attends church regularly, only 2% of their adult children will attend church and 60% will not attend church at all.
And there is even more: if the father attends church regularly, but the mother attends irregularly, then 38% of their adult children will be regular churchgoers. And amazingly, if the father attends regularly and the mother never attends church, then 44% of their adult children will be regular churchgoers!
This Swiss study concluded that adult children pattern their church-going behavior upon the father and, very noteworthy, the more the mother’s and father’s example differ, the stronger will their adult children follow the example of the father.
As one commentator expressed it: "A mother’s role will always remain primary in terms of intimacy, care and nurture. (The toughest man may well sport a tattoo dedicated to the love of his mother, without the slightest embarrassment or sentimentality.) No father can replace that relationship. But it is equally true that when a child begins to move into that period of differentiation from home and engagement with the world "out there," he (and she) looks increasingly to the father for his role model. Where the father is indifferent, inadequate, or just plain absent, that task of differentiation and engagement is much harder. When children see that the church is a "women and children" thing, they will respond accordingly - by not going to church, or going much less."
I leave to anthropologists and psychologists to explain this, but I had a little insight into a possible explanation some years ago when a teenager was speaking to me about his parents. He told me: "My mom loves me. But she’s my mom; she has to love me. My father loves me too. He’s my dad, he doesn’t have to love me, but he loves me anyway."
Perhaps we tend to look upon the father’s love as being somewhat more earned or conditional than a mother’s love and sons and daughters seek to obtain the father’s love. Regardless of the reasons, studies indicate that the basic values and self image of children, both sons and daughters, seemed to be determined more by their relationship with their father than their mother.
I recall mentioning this to a high school class of girls and one girl blurted out: "That’s a horrible thought!" I told her that, depending upon the type of boy she was dating, it may indeed be a horrible thought. This was all the more reason for her to choose carefully the man that one day she wished to marry.
Our society is good at teaching the importance of the mother, but we need to do a better job of teaching both young men and women the inescapable importance of the role of the father.
This does not mean a single mother cannot raise wonderful kids. Many wonderful mothers are remarkably effective in raising children without a father due to death, a collapsed marriage, or abandonment. But this cannot reverse all the statistics which support the importance of the father. As one columnist observed: "Kids needs two parents, just as they need two eyes and two legs. Is it possible to survive, even thrive, with just one? Of course. But it is infinitely more difficult."
Dads, you are not "the doofus father." Remember how important you are. Fathers have the duty and privilege to be a man and step up to their responsibilities. If some evil person was trying to break into your home, I presume you would do everything in your power not to let that evil man harm your family. There is evil at your family’s door. It is the evil of drugs, teenage pregnancy, ignorance, depression, law breaking, and, yes, the devil himself, who wishes to attack your family. Your family needs your example as a man of principles, values, and faith in order to defend against these evils.
One final note, our archdiocese is blessed to have the Men of St. Joseph. This is a group of men who gather one morning a week for one hour to pray and encourage each other to be men of faith. I encourage men to attend these meetings. If men are looking for a great way to observe Lent, perhaps they should make a commitment to attend a weekly meeting of the Men of St. Joseph throughout the six weeks of Lent.
* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.