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A Good Man Is Hard to Find – The Crisis of Fatherlessness

by Vicki ThornLately I’ve been doing a lot of speaking to audiences of young adults on the spiritual and psychological wounds of those born since 1960.I talk about the sexual revolution, abortion, attitudes that made children possessions, the impact of day care and divorce, and changing media that have significantly altered – if not destroyed – social mores. In several venues, young men have come up to me and said, “I don’t know how to be a man. I was raised without a father. I am trying to figure out how to do this.”I have been reading Home-Alone America: The Hidden Toll of Day Care, Behavioral Drugs, and Other Parent Substitutes by Mary Eberstadt. It’s a very thought provoking book, looking at some of the undiscussed consequences of certain modern trends, from the prescription of Ritalin and anti-depressants for our kids, obesity, teen sex, specialty boarding schools, divorce and the angst in contemporary music. Now I must confess that I am absolutely clueless about lyrics in rap and hip hop music, so what Eberstadt had to say caught me off guard.“Baby boomers and their music rebelled against parents  because they were parents – nurturing, attentive and overly present (as those teenagers often saw it) authority figures,” she writes. “Today’s teenagers and their music rebel against parents because they are not parents—not nurturing, not attentive, and often not even there” (pg. 121).The music speaks of searching for absent fathers and longing for intact families. For example, the late Kurt Cobain’s life shattered at age seven when his parents divorced. Eberstasdt names many other individuals in the music community with similar life stories. In one song, the late Tupac Shakur talks about being a boy who “had to play catch by myself” and who prays, “Please send me a pops before puberty.”These artists describe how fans flock to them after a concert to tell them that their music speaks the truths of their lives. There is a lie that abounds in our society that children are so resilient that they will be just fine without a father or a mother. Yet it is now the case that there are many books being written by those “resilient kids” who are now adults, addressing the truth of the pain in their lives.In the midst of reading this book, I attended two funerals of men – men who were fathers and who made a difference in other peoples’ lives.The first funeral was for a 70-year-old man who in his prime wrote poetry and took his seven kids and wife on camping adventures. Paul was a man who loved to read and think and discuss what he read with his children. When he was 50, he was felled by a stroke and left, in the eyes of the world, disabled. He was unable to speak at length. He had to quit his job because one side of his body was paralyzed.Yet as one of his sons described him, he was a man of resurrections. He learned to walk again and to speak. He converted his beloved woodworking equipment so that he could operate it one handed and continued to produce beautiful handmade furniture. His sons spoke about his intellect and his humor. They spoke about their memories of camping and helping him fix cars and maintain the house. They spoke of adventures and challenges they shared on the path to becoming Eagle Scouts.In his last months, when he realized he was dying, he called his family – and their families –to spend time together and form an enduring set of last memories. Even in their grief, he showed them how to die with dignity! The old Boy Scouts, now men in their own right, spoke about what he had taught them. His friends shared what he had meant to them … man to man.Later we attended the funeral of an African American man, Robert, who attended a year of college in the 1970s and served two tours of duty in Vietnam. He loved his wife and children fiercely while supporting them working for the department of public works. He developed cancer, was diagnosed in November and within three months went home to the Lord. It was a rather quick death that he recognized as coming, and he lived every second left to him.A letter was read at the funeral. The author, who as a young man had worked with Robert, spoke of a life lesson he learned from him some 30 years ago. Facing a challenge in his life, he talked it over with Robert, who told him, “Don’t be afraid, son. You do what you have to do.”  He said that to this day, when faced with a challenge, those words echo in his head and heart. The next man to speak was one of Robert’s Vietnam buddies, who remembered him asking one night on the battlefield, “What are you going to do with your life? You have to decide and then do it!” Again, the testimony of this man’s wisdom resounded.His own children spoke with great tenderness and insight of their father, from his work ethic to his insistence that they finish school and make something of their lives. One son spoke of working a job like his dad’s and proudly wearing the same uniform. A man of few words, his children yet knew that he always listened and shared wisdom. His older brother spoke about the love this man had for their baby brother and how Robert had nurtured him, changing diapers, feeding him and loving him as a boy himself. And then the younger brother spoke and shared how he could always take whatever was bothering him to his brother and know he’d be loved, accepted and helped. He wept, unable to say anything more than, “I’ll miss him!”In light of these two experiences, it is so obvious that a good man and father make such a difference in his world. His wisdom reaches beyond his nuclear family. The old expression came back to me: “A good man is hard to find.” But oh, how we desperately need them.As I thought about Robert and Paul and the crisis of fatherlessness in both our inner cities and our suburbs, all I could think of is how things are changed when there is a father present. I thought about how these two men had touched so many lives – not as famous people, but as men who lived their lives to the fullest.Our entire culture needs men who can be fathers – biologically and spiritually –to the young men and women who so desperately need them. Where can we find them?(The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Headline Bistro or the Knights of Columbus.)

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