Earlier this month, the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), which is a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, announced an $800,000 grant that is designed “to disseminate information about good fatherhood parenting practices by building research and practice knowledge and capacity” and to “increase positive father involvement in the lives of their children.” (Reread what I just quoted and see if it makes any sense to you.)
The ACF website states that the agency “administers more than 60 programs with a budget of over $49 billion, making it the second largest agency in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.” Here’s a question I would like to ask the Administration for Children and Families: After having spent $49 billion annually for the past several years, what documented proof can you provide that you have improved the parenting skills of mothers and fathers in America?
I’m going to do the ACF a favor by providing the “practice knowledge” that it needs so it can “disseminate information” about good parenting to fathers in America. You may say, “Hey Harry, what qualifications do you have to offer advice to fathers about good parenting practices?”
I would respond by saying that I have two primary qualifications: (1) I learned the craft of parenting from my own parents who successfully raised 17 children (nine boys and eight girls), and (2) my wife and I raised seven children of our own (one boy and six girls). Although I don’t have a college degree in psychology and I don’t work for a government agency, I would be willing to bet my life that the advice I provide here today will be of much greater value than anything the bureaucrats at the ACF eventually come up with.
Based on my personal experiences, I’ve come up with what I call “The Seven Pillars of Fatherhood.” Each of the seven pillars represents an attribute that I believe a father must possess in order to properly perform his duties. The seven pillars are:
1. Faithfulness – This is an old-fashioned virtue that has proved to be worthy and enduring. “Faithfulness” is defined as “steadfast in affection or allegiance” and “firm in adherence to promises or in observance of duty.” In my opinion, to be an exemplary father, a man must be faithful to God, his wife, and his children. A man shows his faithfulness to his spouse by adhering to the promises he made to her when he made his wedding vows. He shows his faithfulness to his children by living up to his duty to provide them with support and guidance, especially during their adolescent and teenage years.
2. Patient Love – Unfortunately, a lot of men mistake “tough love” with bullying. Rather than handling situations that come up in a patient and firm manner, they become aggressive and demanding. This form of parenting may be effective when the children are young, but as they grow older, they perceive their father’s aggressive and demanding behavior as bullying and develop anger and resentment toward him. You will find that the most emotionally stable adults had fathers who were heroically patient with them.
3. Chastity – Another old-fashioned virtue that has withstood the test of time is chastity. A few definitions of “chastity” include (a) abstention from unlawful sexual intercourse, (b) purity in conduct and intention, and (c) restraint and simplicity in design or expression. The first thought that popped into my mind a few years ago when I read about Tiger Woods cheating on his wife was, I wonder if his dad cheated on his mom. One study showed that nine out of ten boys who were aware that their fathers cheated on their mothers ended up later cheating on their own wives. In an interview that was conducted after the news about Tiger’s sexual encounters broke, the girl who Tiger dated in high school said that when Tiger found out that his dad was cheating on his mom, he broke down and cried. We all know that the primary way in which children learn is by imitating their parents. In order to practice the virtue of chastity, a father must also refrain from viewing pornography. If a man wants his children to be pure and chaste, he has to lead by example.
4. Protective – One of the primary roles of a father is to protect his family from harm. While that role has historically been associated with physical protection, out of necessity, it has expanded because of modern technology. While we would never keep the doors to our homes unlocked at night, there are doors that lead into the bedrooms of our children (through electronic devices) that are always unlocked — doors that are left wide open, where prowlers and predators can enter into our homes and plunder our children. It is critical that fathers pay close attention to their children’s use of electronic devices — primarily computers, iPads, and smartphones. Just as you would not allow strangers and bad people to wander through your home at all hours of the day and night, you cannot allow strangers and bad people to communicate with and influence your children through their communication devices. And of course, as always, the role of protector extends outside of the home, so it’s also critically important that fathers know where their children (including teenagers) are at all times and who they are hanging around with.
5. Honesty – Integrity and character begin with honesty. Children know when their parents lie or engage in deceitful behavior. A father who is dishonest sentences his children to a life of frustration and turmoil, because they will most likely end up being dishonest themselves. If you expect your children to be truthful with you, they first have to learn from you what it means to be honest.
6. Adult Expectations – As I was growing up, my dad never used the word “teenager.” He expected his children to be and act like adults once they went through puberty. Although he never expressed it in this way, his attitude was that if one of his sons or daughters were physically capable of having a baby, they were expected to be and act like adults. There was no talk of (or time for) a transition period between childhood and adulthood. One year his children were boys and girls and the next year they were adults. This particular mind-set meant that he had much higher expectations for his children than most fathers have.
7. Work Ethic – One of the first requirements for fathers in transforming their children into adults is to train and condition them at a young age to develop a strong work ethic. While many fathers sign their children up for sports activities at an early age and demand that they learn how to compete, these same fathers fail to show the same resolve and enthusiasm in demanding that their children learn and practice a strong work ethic. If a son or daughter is physically capable of having a baby, he or she is physically capable of learning how to put in long hours of uninterrupted work.
If the Administration for Children and Families ever decided to “disseminate” to fathers the seven pillars I have outlined, we could save millions of dollars in wasted tax dollars, while at the same time strengthening American families. But I’m not going to hold my breath waiting for a government agency to act on my suggestions.
Happy Father’s Day!