Father’s Day is a distant second to Mother’s Day at every point – sentimentality, celebration and commerce.
And that needs to change. It’s a cultural event that affords a platform for truth-telling and moral advocacy.
Granted, Mother’s Day got a head start. It became a national holiday in the United States in 1914, made so by President Woodrow Wilson. Father’s Day became a national holiday in 1972 under President Richard Nixon’s watch.
With roots in the Civil War, Mother’s Day gained traction in 1870 as part of a peace push.
Father’s Day had murkier commercial roots.
Both are commercial powerhouses with Mother’s Day generating up to $18.6 billion in 2013. Far behind is Father’s Day, which generated some $12.7 billion in 2012.
In terms of church life, culture has made Mother’s Day virtually part of the liturgical calendar. Mothers are always honored on Mother’s Day. The same can’t be said of Father’s Day.
A search of articles on EthicsDaily.com discloses numerous columns on Mother’s Day. EthicsDaily.com even had a package of columns this year to equip churches to observe the day. One column was titled “12 Sources to Help Your Church Plan for Mother’s Day.”
A similar search for Father’s Day turns up a paucity of pieces.
I can neither justify our blind spot, nor explain why our culture has relegated fatherhood to secondary status.
Nonetheless, we – EthicsDaily.com and goodwill people of faith – need to ratchet up the conversation about fatherhood. Father’s Day is a good time to do that.
Our social well-being depends on it. Our children need responsible, engaged fathers.
Too many fathers are missing from childrearing, child protecting, child providing. Children reared in households without a father or children born out of wedlock face enormous, even crippling, challenges.
“Researchers have consistently found that children born outside marriage face elevated risks of falling into poverty, failing in school or suffering emotional and behavioral problems,” reported the New York Times.
A fall 2010 Brookings report began: “The rise of fragile families – families that begin when a child is born outside of marriage – is one of the nation’s most vexing social problems.”
“In the first place, these families suffer high poverty rates and poor child outcomes,” said the report. “Even more problematic, the very groups of Americans who traditionally experience poverty, impaired child development, and poor school achievement have the highest rates of nonmarital parenthood – thus intensifying the disadvantages faced by these families and extending them into the next generation.”
The Brookings Institution is a nonprofit think tank engaged in research and public policy concerns.
The report, “Strengthening Fragile Families,” noted, “Today more than 70 percent of black children, 50 percent of Hispanic children, nearly 30 percent of white children, and 40 percent of all children are born outside marriage, assuring the persistence of poverty, wasting human potential, and raising government spending. Reducing nonmarital births and mitigating their consequences should be a top priority of the nation’s social policy.”
President Obama has commendably sought to draw attention to fatherlessness, often with references to his own story.
“I grew up without my father around. He left when I was 2 years old … I felt his absence. And I wonder what my life would have been like had he been a greater presence,” he said in his weekly address on Father’s Day weekend 2011.
“More and more kids grow up without a father figure,” he said, before adding, “Every father has a personal responsibility to do right by our kids as well.”
In his 2012 Father’s Day proclamation, Obama said, “Every father bears a fundamental obligation to do right by their children. Yet, today, too many young Americans grow up without the love and support of their fathers. When the responsibilities of fathers go unmet, our communities suffer.”
Speaking at the 2013 graduation ceremonies at the all-male Morehouse College, Obama said, “Be the best father you can be to your children. Because nothing is more important.”
Noting his own childhood without his biological father, he said, “I sure wish I had had a father who was not only present, but involved. Didn’t know my dad. And so my whole life, I’ve tried to be for Michelle and my girls what my father was not for my mother and me. I want to break that cycle where a father is not at home, where a father is not helping to raise that son or daughter.”
Seeking to break the cycle of fatherlessness, the president has offered a fatherhood pledge as part of the government’s National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse. Here one may find a map that identifies programs by state.
Hallmark Cards probably has the market share on Father’s Day, enhanced by its new Duck Dynasty cards.
Churches would do well to make responsible fatherhood a hallmark for their moral agenda this Father’s Day.
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics. Follow him on Twitter at RobertParham1 and friend him on Facebook.