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Mother's Day is over, and Father's Day is just around the corner. For some reason, it is easier to write a positive article about mothers than about fathers. May the time come when this is reversed!
One of the oldest pieces of advice for families is the Fifth Commandment of Moses: "Honor your father and your mother," which continues, "that your days may be long in the land..." This is the only one of the Ten Commandments that includes a blessing and a promise. And we know it is not an empty one: whenever and wherever families are knit together by mutual love, honor, and respect, things go well for them.
When a family is formed and children are brought into the world, their emotional stability depends on the father's recognition of his duty to lead his family and take primary responsibility for their well-being. The greatest gift a child can have is a father who loves and respects the mother and does not tolerate disobedience or disrespect on the part of their children. In our confused society, children need this living example of a true husband and father.
The goal of education should never be to make our sons smart and successful in the eyes of the world. Rather, we should teach them to become good husbands and fathers--a goal the great Cuban poet JosÚ MartÝ once called "the greatest aim in education." Young men who become true fathers will influence and change the lives of countless people, because true fatherhood does not only mean being a father to one's own children. They can be fathers to all children around them, especially to those who grow up in single parent homes, or those whose fathers are in some way absent from their day-to-day lives.
Unbelievable as it seems, more than half of the world's children are estimated to spend at least part of their childhood without a father in the home. Never before have so many men abandoned their wives and children. Because of this, fatherhood is actually a duty that ought to be entrusted to every male, whether or not he has children of his own.
I have been married almost forty years now, and my wife and I have eight children. Looking back, I can see many times when I was not a good father, even though I always wanted to be one. Having grandchildren and being in contact with many other children gives me a chance now to make up for lost time.
One person who always inspired me was Delf, a teacher who later became a close friend. Delf accidentally killed his own son by backing a truck over him. After this tragedy, Delf spent the rest of his life being a father to other boys--including me. Then there is my friend, Steven McDonald, a former New York City detective, who was shot seven months before his son was born. Now a quadriplegic, he has never been able to play ball with his son, or hold him, or hug him. Yet Steven insists on attending every game at school, picking his son up and taking him to school as often as possible, even though he himself has to be driven.
Steven is a better father than many fit ones. He also travels and speaks to elementary and high school students, providing leadership and inspiration to thousands of young people. Over the years I have known and met many others--coaches, teachers, mentors, and others who were, like Steven, an important (if not the only) father figure to the children around them.
Children hunger for masculine role models whom they can trust and admire. And humility and love go a long way toward earning admiration. A good father is willing to make mistakes, to learn from them, and even apologize for them; his aim is never to prove himself, but to make life a little more joyful for everyone with whom he comes into contact.
Thankfully I had a good father and a good mother. Even if during my childhood my father was away a lot, I always knew he loved me. He also set firm boundaries and demanded that we children love and respect our mother. Because of the security he gave us, we adored our father, and believed he could do anything.
Perhaps the biggest problem with today's fathers is that they are afraid to be real men. By "real" I do not mean macho. To me, a true father has something of a mother in him--something tender. He will also be selfless, focused, ready to provide leadership, and eager to go to bat for those in his care. Think of the problems that could be solved if men gave as much love and time to their wives and children as they do to following sports, or watching TV?
Life in today's world is life in a war zone, and too many fathers are unwilling to be called up--to be soldiers, twenty-four hours a day, on their own home front. As in any war, there will be casualties. But the greatest gift a father can give his family is the knowledge that he is there for them, unafraid, and ready to exert all he has for their sakes, physically, mentally, and spiritually, at any time of the day or night.
We men should encourage one another to become true fathers again. We live in an age when fear seems to dominate every relationship. Through the recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the increased violence and threats of terror, true fathers are needed more than ever. Our world is so full of loneliness and isolation, crime and mental illness. Why can't we fathers do more to provide beacons of light and stability and hope?
Wherever there are true fathers, they should be congratulated. Wherever there are men who long to be true fathers but have not quite achieved it, they need to be encouraged, because even if fatherhood is becoming a lost art, it can be rediscovered and celebrated--and not only on Father's Day.
-- by Johann Christoph Arnold
[Johann Christoph Arnold is a family counselor and author of ten books. Read more of his articles and books at <http://www.ChristophArnold.com> . Reprinted from <http://www.bruderhof.com> . Copyright 2003 Bruderhof Communities. Used with permission.]