Fatherhood and the public good

When you think about your father, what do you think about first? Do you think about the moment of your conception or do you think about your relationship with him? Fatherhood is made by conception, but it is defined by relationship.

No father is perfect. We can all find some real and painful failures in our fathers. And, fathers, like me, can find plenty of failures if we’re willing to admit it. Sometimes the criticism is too harsh, and sometimes it is well-deserved. Either way, it’s a fact that we all know a good father when we see one.

Sure, there may be differences on the small stuff. But when it comes to the essentials, we are all the same. It’s not like some kids prefer abusive fathers, while others appreciate caring fathers. Every child, given the choice, wants the father who conceived her, married to the mother who gave her birth, and living in a loving relationship in a happy home.

Not only is this the preference of everyone who has ever been born, it is also the best predicter of human thriving. More than wealth, health, social strata, education, or any other factor, a stable home is the most important predicter of success.

In one of his most passionate and inspiring speeches, President Barack Obama called on the 2013 graduating class of Morehouse College to step up to the plate and make this kind of fatherhood a reality for their own children.

He said, “When fathers are absent—when they abandon their responsibility to their kids—we know the damage that does to our families. Children who grow up without a father are more likely to drop out of school and wind up in prison. They’re more likely to have substance abuse problems, run away from home, and become teenage parents themselves.”

Some say, “Kids are resilient. They can get along without a father.” True enough. Kids can and do overcome grievous losses. But just because someone can overcome a loss does not make it right to take from them what is rightfully theirs.

Kids have a right to be raised by their mother and father. This right isn’t given by government, it is written into nature by the very fact that you have a mother and a father long before you can ever take care of yourself.

When you were born, your mother was there because she had to be. But it is not necessary for your father to be there. His presence, while every bit as important as the mother’s, comes more from a conscious commitment than from biological ties.

Mothers rarely walk away from their children, but men do — way too often. Motherlessness is not a common problem, but fatherlessness is. That means that men need to be more conscious of just how important our presence is to the children that we father.

Father’s Day gives us an opportunity to recognize the immense public good that comes from fathers who create a stable and loving home for the children that they father. That means marriage. This public institution provides a cultural incentive for men to take up their responsibilities as fathers.

The government has no business in other loving relationships. We don’t ask the courts to approve our BFF or our valentines. Historically, the only relationship that we solemnize before a judge is the kind that brings children into the world.

Marriage is the business of governments because, even though they don’t create the right of a child to be raised by her mother and father, it’s their duty to protect that right.

The marriage of one man to one woman for one lifetime was never an arbitrary custom dreamed up by religious zealots. It is an institution found in every place, and every time because people the world over have understood the social value of men being fathers to their children.

The redefinition of marriage by the US Supreme Court is not helping children. It is not teaching men the importance of fatherhood. It is not supporting mothers with laws that encourage fatherhood. It was written with adult feelings in mind, oblivious to the needs of children. Future generations will look back and marvel at its blindness.

While the government may have temporary amnesia about the meaning of marriage and fatherhood, it’s up to us to keep the vision alive. Let us all step up to support children more strongly than ever. You can start by celebrating Father’s Day.

Remember the blessings you have received through your father. Call him, if you can, and thank him. If you have been let down, take a cue from President Obama. Rather than let his failures consume you, dedicate yourself to giving your children what you didn’t have.

Remind your kids, your friends, and your neighbors how important they can be in someone’s life. Let them know how satisfying and joyful it can be to be a real father. Not only will it make for a stronger community, it also is your best way to help fulfill some child’s deepest desire.

Jonathan Lange is an LCMS pastor in Evanston and Kemmerer and serves the Wyoming Pastors Network. He can be reached at [email protected] Follow his blog at OnlyHuman-JL.blogspot.com.


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