The value of fatherhood in America: Are the dads missing in action?

Friday, March 8th, 2013

Return to Table of Contents: 2013 Winter Edition of Family Business Quarterly

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Pastor Jonathan Zachariou, Davis Christian Assembly in Davis, California
Photo: Courtesy

The past few months, the topic of manhood and fatherhood has surfaced in my fieldwork – especially in the wake of the school shootings, and the questions raised in the headlines about the mental health of the young men full of murderous rage.

The absent father in American life is evidenced by an unraveling of the family as a “home base” for kids to find some measure of security and peace. This was a topic featured in the Washington Times last December, a story entitled, “Fathers disappear in from households across America”.

In January, I sat down with Pastor Jonathan Zachariou, of Davis Christian Assembly Church in Davis, California, to discuss how the male nurturing essential to manhood happens in our modern parenting culture. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three teenage children (two daughters and a son).

Last November, Zachariou ran for the Seventh District Assembly seat of the State of California. “I ran to get more people involved in the political process,” he said, “The system only works if we all participate”. Zachariou observes that this same lack of engagement is a problem not only for the electorate body of our political process, but also in family life.

Recognizing that over 50% of homes are living with divorce, and of the single-parent households 84% are headed by mom and 16% are headed by dad, to some extent fathers are missing in action.

What inspired me about this conversation is Zachariou’s conviction that every man could offer fatherly love to children. It is a matter of heart and mind, and every child can be reached.  He shared a recent personal  story that dramatically illustrates his point.

Last year his family home was burglarized by three teenagers. He attended the court hearing for one of the three young men who committed the crime.  “I looked around the courtroom and this 15-years-old kid had no man standing by him,” he said. “The judge, attorney, and social worker were all female. His mother was in the courtroom, and she also had issues with the law.”

When he was asked to give the victim statement, Zachariou decided there was a greater need for a man to stand up for the teenage defendant.  He looked the teen  in the eye and said, “I just want you to know that I forgive you for what you did, and that I am very impressed with the fact that you are here in this courtroom answering for your actions, and your friends are not. Know that they are not your friends; friends would not allow you to stand here alone and take the heat for something they did too.  What you are doing here today takes courage. I believe you have a good future ahead of you. I will stand by you. God bless you.”

 

“Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.”  James 1:12 ESV

Your fatherly love is also for other people’s children

Don Kleinfelder, Executive Director of Child Advocates of Placer County
Photo: http://casaplacer.org/

I didn’t have to look far to find opportunities to express fatherly love to children with broken biological family ties.

One example, Child Advocate Services (CASA), is a non-profit dedicated to training volunteers to provide guardian support to children in the court system. Don Kleinfelder is the Executive Director of Child Advocates of Placer County. “Our cases primarily involve neglect (70%)  and abuse (30%),” Kleinfelder said. “Most of the children’s tragic stories involve alcohol and meth,” Kleinfelder said.

CASA screens and trains volunteers to advocate for the child’s best interest and according to Kleinfelder the children need an advocate because the court system is very strained for resources. There is one judge, three attorneys and ten social workers to support 300 kids. To meet the demand, CASA has trained and deploys over 200 volunteers, which involves a background check with references and interviews, and over 30 hours of training. The child advocate becomes an officer of the court, and has a respected place in the courtroom along with the attorney.

“These advocates are active members of the court,” Kleinfelder said. “They speak freely in the courtroom. They are the eyes and the ears of the judge and the voice of the child.”

The advocates are matched with cases, and they meet weekly with the child. Their main objective is to understand what the child’s perspective and desires are about and speak on the child’s behalf. “We know from experience and all the statistics affirm that young people with an adult in their life have dramatically improved chances for a highly functional life,” Kleinfelder said. “Kids are so resilient, they will change.”

One of the challenges Kleinfelder observes is that there are not enough male child advocates. “With men and boys this is a big deal,” he said, “Eighty percent of our volunteers are female, and our ratio of boys and girls is 50:50.”  There is a huge need for more men to serve as advocates for the boys. “It is a great opportunity to help a young man,” he said. “It takes 3- 6 months for the kids to realize that you are not getting paid to be with them. Once they believe that you are present because they matter, the relationship deepens and their is bonding that can last for a lifetime.” According to Kleinfelder,  it is not uncommon for these youth to maintain communication with their appointed advocates well into adulthood.

(Learn more about volunteering for CASA)

See related story: Koininea Homes for Teens : Helping Foster youth overcome fatherlessness.

*****

Hey mom! It takes a man to raise a boy into a man

For Zachariou, the problem of absent fathers is not just that many children are growing up in homes without a father present.  He has observed a broader cultural trend to minimize the value of the father’s authority and his role in the family. “Just look at the nature of the media which portrays dads as stupid or irrelevant fixtures in American family life,” Zachariou said citing shows like American Dad, The Simpsons, and Malcolm in the Middle.

So Zachariou challenges fathers living in homes with their children and their mother to not “cop out”.  “I am talking about the fatherly love that sets boundaries and provides a strong measure of security for the family,” Zachariou said. “The father is the anchor; the mother is the heart. And our culture does not recognize this fatherly love as important or valued. Other than earning an income I observe many dads taking a back seat, and occupying a much less influential role in the family and raising children.”

*****

Sometimes we need to loose something before we can truly appreciate it. I suspect this is true of welcoming the presence of fatherly love in our culture.

I remember the epiphany that Michael Gurian’s book, A Fine Young Man: What Parents, Mentors, and Educators Can Do to Shape Adolescent Boys into Exceptional Men, was for me as a mother of two sons. Gurian observed that the male nurturing of our culture had been in decline for more than a generation, and concluded from his consulting practice and extensive research that it was not getting better. He found that our culture lacked the fundamental understanding of how to care for adolescent boys. While Gurian’s book delves deep into the social/cultural and physiological aspects of the adolescent male, my take-away as a wife and mother was very simple and I believe has served our family well.

With boys the first decade belongs to mom and the second decade belongs to dad.

In other words, the female nurturing authority is essential for boys in their early years to experience the secure and loving bonding with the opposite sex. In the second decade, however, the connection with dad takes on greater role to nurture them into manhood.

Gurian argues that the more we overly feminize the systems into which we trust our adolescent males to be educated and cared for, the less friendly and more hostile the boys’ experiences will be. An example that Gurian offers in the culture of our education system, is the alarming trends of medicating the hyperactivity of boys, when the system does not recognize how boys learn.

In 2000, my oldest son was into his early teen years. It hit me that I was not proactively observing the authority of their father. Now make no mistake; my husband was perfectly capable of asserting his authority when he needed to.

No, the problem was me.

After reading Gurian’s book, I realized that my sons needed me to engage their father is a leader of men. I became more mindful of not involving myself too much in matters that the boys and their father could handle with better results. Honoring the boundary of my sons’ future manhood in their relationship with their dad was one of the most authoritative and loving things I have ever done for them.

No doubt mothers who are heading single-parent households have a great challenge in this regard. Nevertheless, maintaining a healthy connection with the biological father, or engaging a father figure for children whose biological fathers are absent will prove strategic for emotional well being.  Two features in this edition, Watch D.O.G.S. – Dads on Campus, and Helping children form healthy emotional bonds document how Jennifer Rodriguez, a mother of two girls in Orangevale, California, escaped a violent marriage, and today with her fiancee Jason Torrey, found a very proactive and hopeful way to love the children through a challenging situation with their father.

 

(See related: America’s love affair with drugs and impact on youth)

Return to Table of Contents: 2013 Winter Edition of Family Business Quarterly


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Joanna Jullien
(Photo: Christi Benz)

Joanna Jullien is an author and speaker on strengthening the parent-child relationship in a cyber powered world. She is the author of The Authority In Me: The Power of Family Life in the Network Culture, produces The Sacramento Cyber Safety Examiner column on Examiner.com, a contributor for Three Moms and a Mike, and is the CyberParenting advisor on The Fish 103.9FM, Tuesdays.

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About Joanna Jullien

Joanna Jullien

Joanna (jullien@surewest.net) and her husband have raised two sons in Roseville, CA. She has a degree from U.C. Berkeley in Social Anthropology (corporate culture). Her honors thesis was awarded the Kroeber Prize and funding from National Science Foundation grant. Joanna writes to help parents with the modern-day leadership challenges of raising children. She is a contributing writer for The Granite Bay View, the Press Tribune, the Sacramento Examiner, and editor of Banana Moments.

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