Writing about Mother's Day is a joy. But writing about Father's Day is sadder and more difficult. Today more than half of U.S. children spend at least a part of their childhoods living apart from their fathers. How do we do justice to Father's Day in an increasingly fatherless society?
I had a good father, and even though he was gone a lot because of pastoral duties, I knew he loved me. He also set firm boundaries and taught me to love and respect my mother. He was a leader and a role model. I believed he could do anything he set his mind to.
I've been married for 46 years. My eight children are all grown. I know I was not always a good father, even though I wanted to be one. But with 42 grandchildren, as well as the many other children I meet every day, I welcome the chance to make up for lost time!
The Fifth Commandment in the Bible tells us to honor both father and mother, and that when people heed this rule, things will turn out well. But how can a father expect to be honored – that is, to be loved and respected – if he does not live a life worthy of these things?
If a man is lazy, dishonest, impure or indecisive, we can expect no better in his children. On the other hand, a father who loves and respects his wife – and who leads his family with decision and dedication – is the greatest gift a child can have. A child's emotional stability depends on his or her father's example. Because the first five years of a child's life are the most formative, this example should be present from early on.
From earliest times, men have been expected to lead their families, and we men should be proud of bearing this responsibility. Today, however, too many men do not lead, and often they are not even there at all.
We men need to be fathers, not only to our own children, but to all the children whose lives we touch. Even men without children of their own can embody the best attributes of fatherhood. In this sense, fatherhood is a duty that is entrusted to every male, and true men will be like fathers to all children. Over the years I have known many coaches and teachers in high schools and elementary schools who were the only father figures many of their students knew.
In a time when true fathers are so hard to find, we would do well to heed the Cuban writer José Martí, who said that "the greatest aim of our education should be to make true fathers out of the boys, and true mothers out of the girls. Everything else is secondary."
There is deep wisdom is these words. Boys hunger for masculine role models, and suffer when they do not find them. Conversely, those who do find true fathers can one day become good fathers and leaders themselves, and leave behind a legacy that will change still more lives.
Daring and fearless, these men will enter into the battles of life as good soldiers, ready for challenges and combat. And like soldiers anywhere, they will remain alert and ready for duty 24 hours a day. They will not be afraid to lead, or to learn from their mistakes. In this way they will make a difference for their own children and for the world around them.
Men, let's encourage one another to become true fathers again. In an age when fear dominates every relationship, we need real fathers more than ever – men who are beacons of light, and who provide companionship, love and hope in a world filled with loneliness, pain and despair.
Do you have such a father? If you do, you are truly fortunate. Take a moment on this Father's Day to be grateful for him and to thank him.