In the list of my favorite sitcoms, I wouldn’t have thought “New Girl” would provide some of the best advice for fathers. But the moment was so powerful and so poignant, I literally had to skip back to watch it a few more times before finishing the episode. I’m sure many, if not most, of our readers are unfamiliar with the show, and that is fine. The point I’m going to attempt to make today is not dependent on your knowledge of the show or the characters. But it will require a little set-up for it to make sense.
Two of the main characters on the show are Nick and Schmidt. Schmidt has a very complicated relationship with his father. In fact, his father has been mostly absent from Schmidt’s life. Certain events take place that put Schmidt and his father back into each other’s lives and Schmidt’s father is attempting to make things right and not bail on his son again like he has so many times in the past. Nick, who has been best friends with Schmidt since college, has seen years of this sort of thing and he is understandably concerned. After a brief visit, Schmidt’s father prepares to leave, and he promises that he will meet Schmidt for dinner later that evening. As he leaves, Nick follows him out of the apartment to the elevator and delivers the following speech:
Just be better. Be his dad. Just be there for him even when it’s not fun and sometimes it’s really not fun.
Just promise me that if you show up for dinner tonight, you’ll show up tomorrow, and the day after, and the week after, and basically forever.Nick Miller (New Girl)
“Just be better. Be his dad. Just be there for him…” It almost sounds too simplistic. Naive even. Fatherhood can’t be reduced to just showing up, can it? Of course not, but the more research done on the subject, the more obvious it becomes that “just be there” might be the best advice we can give fathers.
How did we get here?
We are in the midst of a nation-shattering crisis. We have been for some time but it’s only now starting to be truly acknowledged. Our children, in growing numbers, are aimless, confused, angry, and emotionally damaged. Just look at the daily news if you need any proof of this. The causes are too many to list, but one of the primary factors for positive outcomes in children is the involvement of their fathers. And in too many cases, fathers are uninvolved or absent.
I want to make something clear from the outset: I am not here to point fingers, chide, rebuke, or condemn. As a father, I have heard dozens of Mother’s Day sermons where the pastor speaks glowingly about mothers, showering praise on them for all they do. I’ve also heard my fair share of Father’s Day sermons where dads are reprimanded and told that they need to step up. I’m not saying the content of those sermons is unfair or faulty. But, more often than not, the fathers who are sitting in the pews on Father’s Day Sundays are the good ones. The ones who are fulfilling their Biblical roles. And those sermons can feel demoralizing and defeating. I hope this is not that. Instead, I want this to be mostly an encouragement to the fathers out there who are walking the walk and fighting the good fight.
Why are Fathers important?
That probably sounds like an obvious or even dumb question. One of the key problems is, for too long and from too many voices we have been told that fathers are not that important. Our culture has spent the last 40+ years trying to convince itself that fathers are irrelevant at best or destructive at worst. I want to be clear; the following example is but one piece of the puzzle, but I do feel it’s worth considering when we examine this cultural crisis.
I am 44 years old, and I can remember when the cultural indoctrination started. If you watch television or movies pre-dating the mid to late 80s, you will see fathers who are intelligent, involved, loving, and respected. 1 Slowly but surely, that father was replaced by fathers who were at turns dumb, childish, irresponsible, or worse. 2 Often, the changes were subtle, barely even noticeable. In fact, they were typically framed as humorous, so we laughed along. But the message this new version of fathers was sending was clear: fathers are basically big kids. They aren’t here to do anything important other than pay the bills. They are lovable idiots, not really worthy of our respect.
Like I said, these changes weren’t in our face. Which made them all the more powerful and effective. But it laid the groundwork for what we are seeing today. Not every television show or movie subscribed to this new version, but many did and the culture at large followed along. Just think about it. How many commercials have you seen in the past decade where the father is the buffoon? How often is the father well-intentioned but woefully out of his depth? If one were to do serious statistical analysis on this, I would wager the instances of this very thing would be astronomical.
TV and film didn’t destroy fathers. But they played their role quite effectively. Media shapes how many of us perceive the world. How we view life, society, and values. And the message we have been getting has been incredibly clear: fathers are good for a laugh – often at their expense – but they are not good for much else.
Fathers share some of the blame
The reality is, whether due to outside forces affecting how we view fathers, and therefore how they are valued, or fathers simply being derelict in their duties, we have a fatherhood crisis in our country. And as previously stated, this topic is too big and too multi-faceted to cover in one 1,600-word article. That is outside of my skillset and definitely beyond the scope of what I am trying to do. All that said, the research on this topic and the statistics we do have paint an overwhelming and powerful picture. Fathers matter. Fathers are far more important than most of us realize.
“Eye opening” doesn’t begin to describe the numbers. Shocking would probably be a better descriptor. According to research by The National Fatherhood Initiative, the 18.4 million children without a biological, step, or adoptive father in the home are affected in the following ways:
- Four times greater risk of poverty
- Two times greater risk of infant mortality
- More likely to go to prison
- More likely to commit crime
- Seven times more likely to become pregnant as a teen
- More likely to face abuse and neglect
- Two times more likely to drop out of school
Those stats are just the tip of the iceberg. There are no measurables that show children, or mothers, are better off with fathers being out of the home. Boys have fewer behavioral problems and girls have fewer psychological problems when they have involved dads. Children living without their father in the home are 47% more likely to live in poverty. 3 Study after study, statistic after statistic, the truth is clear: Many of the problems that plague our society can be traced back to fatherlessness.
There is good news
Now, to the good stuff. If you are a father, congratulations! You are one of the most blessed and favored humans on this planet. I mean that with complete sincerity. God has divinely blessed you with the inexpressibly wonderful gift of children. Never take that for granted. And, contrary to what society, television, movies, music, books, or the media try to force you to believe, you matter. Your role, the role of being a father, is unequivocally and undeniably vital to the physical, emotional, social, psychological, and spiritual health of your children. As important as mothers are, and they are incredibly important, fathers do not take a back seat to anyone.
Again, take a look at the stats. Children with involved fathers are at lower risk of emotional and behavioral problems, neglect, abuse, injury, teen pregnancy, alcohol and substance abuse, incarceration, and suicide.4 Fathers, you can make a difference just by showing up. Just by being there. Or course, there are other factors, but even the bare minimum of effort – being there – is enough to affect all sorts of life outcomes.
Just be there.
If you are struggling with being a part of your son’s life, keep it simple. “Just be better. Be his dad.” If you don’t know where to begin in connecting with your daughter, “just be there for her even when it’s not fun and sometimes it’s really not fun. If you show up for dinner tonight, you’ll show up tomorrow, and the day after, and the week after, and basically forever.” Simple, yet profound. You don’t have to be Super Dad. It doesn’t require elite skills and training. Your presence and attention are enough. Read that book. Play that game. Take that adventure. Just show up. Just be there.
For those fathers out there, who have been showing up, who are there for their kids, keep fighting the good fight. Society might not value you like it should, but that does not lessen your true worth. Your role in the lives of your children cannot be performed by anyone else. You have been given the skills, the abilities, and the divine mandate to be the best father you can be for your children. Don’t listen to the world around you. Do not allow those voices to tell you that you don’t matter. That you are replaceable. You aren’t. Your children need you to be there, so just be there. You will need to build and grow from there, but the starting point is clear: be present, be involved. Just be there.
Happy Father’s Day from Rambling Ever On!