Why bother with fathers?
Fathers have supplied fodder to Hollywood for years. In TV land we have gone, sadly, from the sublime to the ridiculous, from Father Knows Best to American Dad. Seen any good movies about fathers lately? There’s Father of the Bride, Three Men and a Baby, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, My Dad the Rock Star and of course, the Godfather. But don’t give up all hope just yet: Bill Cosby assures us that “if the new American father feels bewildered and even defeated, let him take comfort from the fact that whatever he does in any fathering situation has a fifty percent chance of being right.” My research into fatherhood shows first, why fathers, contrary to almost everything you might see coming out of Hollywood, are actually critically important in healthy child development, second, the dangers of father absence, and third, briefly describe a grass-roots ministry designed to strengthen fathers and families.
Way back in 2001, “The Review of General Psychology” contained an article with the intriguing title, “The Importance of Father Love: History and Contemporary Evidence”. From a long list of reasons, here are my personal favorites:
1. Fathers Play Differently. Fathers tickle and wrestle with their kids, chase them, toss them into the air. Mothers cuddle babies, fathers bounce them; mothers are gentle while fathers roughhouse.
2. Fathers Build Confidence. Go to a playground and observe. Who is encouraging kids to climb and swing higher and who is urging caution? Who yells out to ride the bike faster, throw the ball harder, beat that throw to first base and who says Be Careful! Generally speaking, Fathers encourage taking risks, which can build a sense of independence, confidence and progress.
3. Fathers (and Mothers) Teach Respect for the Opposite Sex. Research shows that boys and girls with married fathers in the home learn, by observation, how men should treat women. Girls with involved fathers, therefore, are more likely to select for themselves good suitors and husbands because they have a proper standard by which to judge all candidates. Fathers also help weed out bad candidates! Boys raised with fathers are more likely to become good husbands because they can emulate their fathers’ successes and learn from their failures.
Moving on to the dangers of Father absence, we learn from the 1994 census that more than 27 million children live apart from their biological fathers. That amounts to 39% of children under 18. So what’s the danger? When he was attorney general of Virginia, Mark Earley, president of Prison Fellowship, made it a point to visit juvenile detention centers. He says he met not one kid behind bars who had a father living at home. Father absence significantly increases behavioral problems, school drop-out rates, drug and alcohol abuse, incarceration and even suicidal tendencies.
Obviously, not all 27 million kids living apart from their biological fathers will get into trouble. But all children would benefit from having the assurance of a father’s love, even after they are grown, even after their father has died. How is this possible? Greg Vaughn lost his father to Alzheimer’s in 2001. He struggled with many things, including this question: Why couldn’t Dad have said the things I needed to hear: “Son, I love you! Son, I’m proud of you!” After wrestling with God for a good bit, he realized that even though he has told his kids “I love you!”, he had left them nothing to hold in their hands that would continue to communicate that important message. So he called his friends and asked them:
1. Do you have an intentional letter of love, blessing and affirmation from your Dad? All replied, “No, I don’t”.
2. What would it mean to you if you did have such a letter? They replied, “More than you would ever know”.
3. Have you ever written such a letter to your kids? All replied, “No, I haven’t”. To which Greg replied, “Don’t you think we should?”
15 guys agreed to meet once a month and write four letters: a letter to their wives, because they were the ones that gave them the privilege of being called “Dad”; letters of blessing to each of their children; a letter of blessing to their parents, or if deceased, a letter of tribute; and they wrote the final letter of their lives that wasn’t to be read unto after their death.
The response from their wives and kids was phenomenal. For the first time, they clearly understood that nothing would ever change Dad’s love and commitment to them. Many wounds were healed and families were brought closer together than ever before. They asked Greg if they could host a dinner for their friends to hear what they had just done. 130 guys showed up and went through the four month process. At the end of that time they had another dinner with 250 Dads. Four months later they had another with over 700 men. That was the beginning of Letters from Dad. Since its release to local churches in 2005, Letters from Dad has spread to over 1400 churches in 47 states, and more than 22,000 men have gone through the process. Why bother with father?! Research and experience have shown both the dangers of father absence and the blessings of Father love and commitment. With help like Letters from Dad, your chances of success go way beyond 50%!