On June 19th our country will celebrate Father's Day, as we have every third Sunday in June since the holiday was proclaimed in 1910. But times have changed since the turn of the 20th century, especially when it comes to the structure of families in America. Given the sharp rise in fatherless homes, it may be time to reconsider the relevance of the holiday, and the importance of not only recognizing, but actually promoting the active, loving and supportive involvement of fathers in their children's lives.
Whether through the media and popular culture, or as a result of direct experience, the value we place on the role of the father in today's society has diminished, and there is an unconscious yet commonly held assumption that fathers today are in some way less essential than mothers.
For instance, few would question the fact that, according to the National Retail Federation, consumers were expected to spend a total of 9.8 billion on Father's Day in 2010--a third less than the 14.6 billion spent on Mother's Day, which comes second in spending only to Christmas.
But in our consumerist culture, this disparity in spending is indicative of a difference in the father's role within the home. And the fact that we fail to question it shows just how accepted the peripheral role of the father has become.
This cultural presumption is even more pronounced in African American and minority communities. According to a 2008 article in Newsweek, "the engaged black father is an elusive character in popular culture." This absence has become the status quo--both the lack of a healthy representation of black fathers, and the predominance of negative stereotypes propagated by programs like the Maury Show, remain unquestioned.
That is not to say that these representations have no basis in reality. The stark truth is that 63% of African American children live away from their fathers, almost twice that of the general population. If we do the math, neither black children nor the general population are faring very well when it comes to access to two-parent households.
But that is only half of the story. The idea that a father's role is in any way unessential is entirely disproven by the research. In fact, statistics clearly and consistently show that the price for a father's absence is tragically high. For example, 85% of youth in prison, 71% of high school drop outs, and 90% of homeless and runaway children come from fatherless homes.
And that is not all: 85% of children with behavioral disorders, 63% of teen suicides, 80% of rapists with anger problems, and 71% of pregnant teenagers grew up without a father figure.
Even those fathers that are present in their children's lives must contend with a strong cultural emphasis on providing financial rather than physical, emotional or spiritual support. Consider our country's harsh child support laws, which focus entirely on financial mandates and offer very little to encourage a father's active presence in his child's life.
Research shows that this heavy financial focus can actually deter fathers who, due to lack of employment or job skills, are unable to fulfill the role of "breadwinner." If "the provider" is the definition of a good father, and one cannot live up to that standard, a sense of discouragement and helplessness often follows.
Fortunately, we have already seen a subtle shift in attitudes about fatherhood. According to a 2010 New York Times article, the struggle for fathers to balance work and home life has become more and more pronounced over the years, indicating a greater emphasis on physical involvement with their children.
But that is not enough--the incredible stress that many fathers feel as they attempt to navigate the middle road is not being addressed by regulators. Whereas across the river, fathers are allowed weeks if not months of paternity leave, most here in America either use already limited vacation and sick days, or are unable to spend any time at home after the birth of their child.
Given the statistics on outcomes for children from fatherless homes, we can now confidently advocate for the fact that the role of the father is crucial to a child's well being and future success.
In order for a shift to occur, we must first recognize and then begin to question our assumptions regarding fatherhood. So much has changed in the century since the origination of Father's Day--it is time that we revisit our cultural expectations about fatherhood and come together as a society to actively nurture and advocate for the profound relationship between father and child.
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