Where can fathers learn to be fathers?

A recent NPR story played off some oft-cited statistics about the importance of fathers in the lives of their children. This one involved teaching men in Ohio how to be fathers—men who, in several cases, had never seen an example of a good father. In this story the relentlessly leftist voice of National Public Radio spoke as though men, and the difference between mothers and fathers, might be important in the lives of kids. That difference is occasionally downplayed as our cultural leaders go all in for same-sex families. There was even a bit of this mixed message present in President Obama’s use of these same stats during his Father’s Day speech. This president has been a predictable voice for gender confusion for the past two years at least.

The left wing of our culture is on the horns of a dilemma. We are swamped by the swelling disaster of single motherhood and we know that children suffer more than financial loss when their fathers are out of the home. At the same time, acknowledging the unique role of fathers—an essential difference between men and women—does not support the metanarrative of “all families are the same” we are force fed on every hand. If men have something irreplaceably masculine to provide, then mothers have something irreplaceably feminine to contribute. Same-sex couples of either sex are thus less equipped to be good parents. No politician or academic with grandiose dreams will suggest such a thing in public.

Sociologists Timothy Biblarz and Judith Stacey contend, for example, that “very little about the gender of the parent has significance for children’s psychological adjustment and social success.” Other pundits have suggested that two parents may be better than one but that women are better parents in singles or pairs. Lesbian couples are then the optimal parents. This is just the science of it, we’re told, objective and enlightening.

The secret to understanding these things may have something to do with outcomes prized by the researchers and their chorus line. Children raised by two mothers were less likely to be chauvinistic or experience physical discipline, for example. This contrast with heterosexual families was cited to show the advantages of lesbian parents. I might wonder if “chauvinist” means “conservative” or “traditional.” If so, of course kids raised in non-traditional homes will be less “chauvinist.” Does the unlikelihood of a spanking have to do with the typical parenting style of mothers or the requirement that adoptive parents not utilize corporal punishment? Either way, not everyone will see that as an automatic benefit to a child. Not all of us are sociologists. Leftists put a finger on the scale and call it science.

But there is a word for your church and mine in this discussion. The fathers in the original story and a similar one I heard were in some cases the children of single, unwed mothers. Some of them were living with women to whom they were not married and the children of other men. Some were fathers to multiple children by multiple women and confounded about how to be fathers to them all. I wondered as I listened how things might have been different if churches had not become such a mixed bag of social ministry, therapeutic preaching, seeker sensitivity and moral timidity over the past 50 years. How might the lives of thousands of children have been changed? Men my age, in every community, were raised with the awareness that society expected children to follow marriage, and marriage to be a durable if not permanent commitment. Many of our children have grown to adulthood, and parenthood, without that awareness ever crossing their minds. The root of our cultural mores is a book of which they are completely ignorant, the story of a God of whom they know mostly falsehoods. To some degree that has happened because sinners reject the counsel of God but some of it has happened because God’s people have abdicated their roles as the salt of the earth and the light of the world. It is as though we are gone from the lives of most people and nobody remembers we were ever there.

Where can a young man who has known no father see fathers trying to do a good job? Where can a couple see that love and commitment for a lifetime can bring joy? Where can they see femininity and masculinity lived out in mutual respect? Try my church or yours. Community centers, universities and counseling centers are poor alternatives. Not all of these families—mothers, fathers, children—will look and live, but some will if we take our lights from under the bushel.

Gary Ledbetter
Southern Baptist Texan
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