Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Catching up

It has been a busy summer, and I have neglected posting.   Below are some columns from the last months.

On fathers:

The role of fathers continues to evolve
The first Father’s Day was observed in Spokane, Washington on June 19, 1910.  Since that time, the role of a father has evolved to include greater participation in a child’s day-to- day life.

According to the Library of Congress “Wise Guide”, Sonora Dodd gets the credit for the day on which we honor fathers.  Dodd’s father was a widower whose wife died in childbirth. Dobb, who was sixteen at the time, helped her father raise her five younger brothers. She came up with the idea for Father’s Day while listening to a sermon on Mother’s Day.  She asked churches in her area to put aside a Sunday in June (the month of her father’s birth) to celebrate fathers. 

While there was support for Dodd’s idea, there was also opposition.  Some thought sentiment would be an affront to manliness. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson, who had signed the proclamation for Mother’s Day, endorsed the idea, although he stopped short of signing a similar proclamation for fathers.  In 1924, the idea for Father’s Day achieved a national boost from President Calvin Coolidge; Coolidge publicly supported Father’s Day as a way to “establish more intimate relations between fathers and their children and to impress upon fathers the full measure of their obligations.”  During World War II, Americans began to associate Father’s Day with the honoring of troops. Father’s Day finally received formal recognition in 1972 when President Richard Nixon signed an official proclamation.

It is not surprising that Dodd conceived the idea of Father’s Day while sitting in church because the Judeo-Christian tradition uses the image of a father to describe God.

The metaphor of God as father appears about twenty times in the Hebrew Scriptures, according to scholars who count these sorts of things. God is the father of Israel or of its king.  In the context of the salvation history of ancient Israel, the metaphor expressed God’s steadfast love for the nation. The Scriptures also portray God as a protective father of the defenseless, typified in the widow and orphan.  The prophets compared the fatherly God to a potter, molding the character of the people and guiding them along right paths.

In the New Testament, where there are about one hundred seventy references to God as father, Jesus refers to God as “Father” and calls God “Abba” or “Daddy”.  In the “Our Father”, the most beloved of all Christian prayers, Jesus teaches his followers to entrust themselves to their heavenly father who longs to take care of them.

While the Bible is not a parenting manual, the metaphorical language describing God as “Father” paints a tender picture. A father in the biblical mode is present to the unfolding of his child’s life from infancy through adulthood. Loving, wise, consistent and firm, he attends to his child’s material and emotional needs.

The biblical representation of father stands in sharp contrast to the “dummy down” dad portrayed in television sit-coms. The dufus dad, exemplified in Homer Simpson, is immature, unaware, and individualistic. Lacking insight and wisdom, he bumbles his way through his child’s life.

Harry Chapin, in his classic 1976 hit “Cat’s in the Cradle”, described another type of father. The workaholic father advances his career to the detriment of his relationship with his child. Physically and emotionally absent, he fails to forge the father-child bond.

Thankfully, the majority of fathers fall somewhere along this spectrum of extremes. 

When Darwin posited his theory of evolution, he wasn’t thinking about fathers, but the role of fathers is definitely evolving.  I see this evolution at literacy programs where dads sit in circles with their toddler singing nursery songs.  I see it when dads walk their child to and from school. Along with more traditional activities like coaching ball, soccer or hockey, today’s dad is changing diapers, reading stories, playing make-believe, and attending play dates, as well as cooking, cleaning and shopping. 

This is a good thing.  Research in parenting indicates that when fathers are actively involved with their children, the child develops stronger language skills and has fewer behavioral problems; socially and intellectually, the child thrives.
Coolidge would probably be pleased to see fathers taking on new responsibilities and growing closer to their children.  

No longer content to just “bring home the bacon”, more dads are providing their children with the “daily bread” that nourishes body, mind and spirit.  Granted, the majority of mothers still shoulder the bulk of child-rearing responsibilities, but then evolution, even in parenting, is a slow process.

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