A look at fathers past and present on this Father’s Day
I have been called a lot of things in my long life – not all of them complimentary – but one of the most satisfying is being called Dad. It is a sobriquet I earned with the considerable involvement of the beloved Woman Who Shared My Name. It was teamwork at its finest, although I will admit she had the tougher part of the job. Birthing babies is not for the faint of heart.
This brings me to June 18. Father’s Day. A time to pay tribute to all fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers out there. But, alas, it is also a time of concern. Where have all the fathers gone?
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 25% of our youth today are growing up without a father in the home. That is a staggering 18.5 million children. In 1968, 85% of children under 18 lived with two parents. By 2020, 70% did.
A report by the U.S. Department of Justice says that children from fatherless homes account for 63% of youth suicides, 90% of all homeless and runaway youths, 85% of all children that exhibit behavioral disorders, 71% of all high school dropouts and 75% of adolescent patients in substance abuse centers. And, I would presume, is a major factor behind the rise of gangs.
At the risk of sounding like the fossil I really am, it is easier to get a divorce than it is to work out the differences with each other. A jurist friend of mine who has presided over innumerable divorce cases says many times the dispute is over money, not the ultimate welfare of the children. Children become a secondary issue.
This assumes, of course, that they were married in the first place. The Pew Research Center says that today one-in-four parents living with a child in the United States are unmarried. Fifty years ago, the number was fewer than one-in-ten.
My brother and I didn’t get to pick my parents, but we agree we got two good ones and are the better for it. Our father left home at 16 with only a seventh-grade education and took a job with the Railway Express Agency. In his 49-and-a-half years with the company, he missed exactly three weeks of work and that was due to an emergency appendectomy that kept him hospitalized. Today, I suspect this probably would be outpatient surgery – if they still even remove the appendix – and I have no doubt he would have left the doctor’s office and gone straight to work.
His was never a 9-to-5 job. He worked all kinds of shifts – sometimes daytime, sometimes evenings, sometimes overnight. He wasn’t around to celebrate a lot of holidays. We didn’t go fishing together or play catch in the yard. He was usually working. But we knew he loved us and we appreciated his sacrifices to give his sons a better life than the one he had known as a child. And he did. That both his boys were college graduates who did well in their respective careers was a source of great pride to him.
My father was never my pal. He was always my father. He was a man of few words, but those words were not subject to debate. Those words were law. His law. And we obeyed. My brother and I said “sir” and “ma’am” to all adults, ate everything on our plate and then asked our mother to be excused from the table when we had finished, remembering to thank her, as well.
He set a high bar for me as a father without intending to. He was just being himself. A quiet, simple man who taught me about the value of hard work, loyalty to those who employed me, and family first and always. He has been gone for some time now, but I revere him and his memory as do my own children, who have a hard time believing that their doting avuncular grandfather was the no-nonsense man I had described growing up. Grandparenting will do that to a person.
I don’t know what kind of grade my kids would give me as a father. Now that they have their own children and grandchildren, they are rightfully focused on the future, not the past. But even at this late stage of my life, hearing them call me Dad is an honor and a privilege. I only wish more children today could have that experience.
You can reach Dick Yarbrough at email@example.com or at P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, Georgia 31139