Say the word “Mother” in our culture. The image you conjure is of one who offers a life time of love, acceptance and nurture. Warm and fuzzy feelings abound.
Say the word “Father.” The image you see differs wildly from that of the mother.
“Mothering” means the gift of kindness, directional advice and a safe shoulder on which to cry. This is for ever and always.
“Fathering” is a one time conceptive act. Guys sell ourselves short as (enthusiastic) sperm donors.
Today I argue for a culture shift. Time now to change the paradigm. We need fathers who will provide safety, love and directional dialogue for their children, of whatever age, and for other children, of whatever age, who have never been “fathered.”
I use my minutes in the quest to be a minister. So much of the interaction I have now with younger people wades through a thousand other things before we can get to “religion.” I am the Father-Confessor for a growing group of young men (and some young women) who want to know how you know.
“How do you know what you ought to do?”
“How do you know how to keep a budget?”
“How do you know this is the one?”
“How do you know if this is the job you ought to take?”
The questions fathers ought to explore range from the ethical to the functional. They are, however, mostly about the business of knowledge (epistemology) and certainty in a very unsettled day.
“The first duty of love,” Paul Tillich wrote, “is to listen.”
To father requires listening on a higher level. Young people (lots of people are younger than me now) speak with an idiom and intonation different from that of my generation. I have to discipline myself to listen for what they seek, not what they say.
Young people in southwestern American culture seem willing to play by the rules, if they can just find out what the rules are for today. Commercialized media say “Spend. Play. Sleep around, it’s just sex, it’s just something you do with your body.”
This is the old Greek dualism that splits the body and the soul, as though we are not a unified soul. The ancient Hebrews, who wrote most of the Bible, Old and New Testaments, teach a wholeness of creation with Creator, so that what we do in the body affects the whole person. We leave a bit of ourselves with everyone we touch and take something of them with us.
Fathers (and every guy can father whether or not he ever donates sperm to a conception) have to find a way to let young people know it is alright not to be a consumer of today’s status quo. No commercial or thirty minute sit-com ever shows the morning after the material binge or “meaningless sex.”
You do not have to hang out a shingle that say MentorMan. Live a decent life, stay loyal to your family and other kids will naturally gravitate to you.
One of our family things was “Ice Cream” Tuesday at the Sonic Drive-In. I never make a lot of money so our traditions tend to be simple, together things. When our kids got old enough to start attracting persons of the opposite sex, we often had a full van on Ice Cream Tuesday.
One young man who briefly courted our daughter showed up at our door one Tuesday after I ended their courtship. He missed going to the Sonic and wanted to know if he could just ride along in the back of the van.
A lot of kids call me “Dad” who do not have my DNA. My responsibility to them is no less great than that to my own kids.
Our culture needs some fathering.