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Published July 30, 2013, 09:59 AM

Parenting Perspectives: The president raises issue of fatherlessness

I didn’t grow up with a perfect father. There were times I needed much more of mine than I got, when he was a little harder on me than seemed fair, and when he grew distant, especially in my teen years.

By: Roxane B. Salonen, INFORUM

I didn’t grow up with a perfect father. There were times I needed much more of mine than I got, when he was a little harder on me than seemed fair, and when he grew distant, especially in my teen years.

Nevertheless, when his earthly life came to a halt, and even before then, I knew he loved me dearly. Over time I was able to look back and see the ways in which his wisdom and love shined through – crucial ways that helped mold the person I am today.

I need to begin there because, for one, my father would have insisted on it, and two, I can’t share the rest of my thoughts without stating upfront that I realize perfect fathers and perfect homes don’t exist.

In other words, this conversation is important even if you didn’t have an involved father in your home growing up or don’t have an active father in your or your kids’ lives right now.

Nevertheless, the disturbing reality remains that we are facing an epidemic of fatherlessness in America. And we’re also beginning to see how this troubling and pervasive reality is contributing to our most pressing ills in ways that cannot be minimized.

Though he didn’t grow up with an involved father in his life, President Barack Obama has said being a father is his most important role, and he recently launched a campaign to address the issue of fatherlessness in our country.

According to the government-run Web page, The National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse, fatherlessness “undergirds many of the challenges that families are facing. When dads aren’t around young people are more likely to drop out of school, use drugs, be involved in the criminal justice system and be young parents themselves.”

In response, Obama has called for a “national conversation on responsible fatherhood and healthy families,” and is asking citizens, and fathers in particular, to pledge to renew their commitment to family and community through providing children “the encouragement and support they need to fulfill their potential.”

Oprah Winfrey has taken note, too, and in response, produced a four-hour series for fatherless sons and daughters on how to deal with the human consequences of paternal deprivation.

The topic is complex, but seeing this from a strictly scientific standpoint, it seems to me that since not one of us would exist without a father, fathers are naturally an important piece of what constitutes a strong and healthy society.

We tend to be a reactive culture, and perhaps that’s one reason it’s taken us awhile to wake up, but here we are now, reeling from a dire situation that is hurting the souls of our citizens, and one that, if not addressed, could wreak further havoc.

I don’t have all the answers to what will create a healthier, more balanced society, one in which men will be encouraged to rediscover one of their highest callings of protecting those in their care. But I’m almost certain that encouraging and purposefully creating more fatherless families won’t help.

In the life of a child, fathers, no matter how imperfect, are irreplaceable. Many men may walk near us through our lives to paternally guide us, but we only have one biological father, and from all accounts, it appears his presence matters a lot.

Roxane B. Salonen works as a freelance writer and children’s author in Fargo, where she and her husband, Troy, parent five children. She blogs on family life at http://peacegardenmama.areavoices.com

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