Some random thoughts on Father’s Day

So another Father’s Day has come and will go without much real change in American society’s attitudes toward fatherhood and men in general.

First, the requisite admission: many fathers are bad models and many men are abusive, oppressive and stupid.

Second, an obvious observation: our society doesn’t help when the mass media portray men as stupid, silly, sinister and violent. (Nor is the current spate of movies portraying women as violent help women or society, either.)

We all know how important the father role is to holistically healthy childhood development. And how devastating it can be to have a father who is abusive, neglectful and/or absent. Even adult children can be harmed psychologically by having a father who turns abusive verbally and emotionally.

I mentioned in my immediately preceding post (about movies and books) that the father-son relationship must be the most complicated relationship known to humanity. I’m almost glad I don’t have a son; it seems so hard to “get it right.” (By “it” I mean fathering a son.)

Sons especially look to their fathers for approval and blessing. So do daughters, of course, but I think daughters are more likely to forgive and not be damaged by a few fatherly mistakes. Sons internalize fatherly disapproval even when it is communicated only by a lack of verbal approval and blessing. I think it’s built into males to need that blessing from a father. And I think many men are conditioned to expect too much of their sons and withhold approval and blessing when they seemingly fall short of expectations.

Many of today’s social pathologies are rooted, I believe, in what some psychologists have called “father hunger”–especially boys and young men having no strong, loving, approving male to guide them and bless them.

Our society has literally millions of young men who have grown up with no father figures. Even most of their teachers have been women. Not that women can’t teach boys and young men, but studies have proven that boys learn better from men than from women. Girls also learn better from women than from men. Our public schools have too few male teachers.

What could society do to redress some of this? It’s a blatant lie that popular entertainment culture simply reflects reality. TV producers and movie makers clearly attempt to engineer society. So why do they not even attempt to help with this situation? In the past there were some TV shows and movies that portrayed fathers and men as good, but I suspect the widespread effect of the feminist movement, perhaps misinterpreted, has reduced that almost to nothing. It’s politically incorrect to portray fathers and men as good, competent, strong, honest, supportive and loving–unless there’s a “dark side” that eventually comes out that ruins everything positive portrayed.

Now, let me go back to the 1950s to illustrate. Some of you may remember the TV series “Father Knows Best.” The feminist movement has wrongly held it up to ridicule. I grew up watching it because my stepmother loved it. As I recall, the father, Jim Anderson, portrayed by Robert Young, was a good father in every way INCLUDING that he did not abuse or oppress his wife and kids. In fact, the very name of the series was clearly ironic. Jim Anderson DID NOT always know best. He frequently had to  bow to his wife’s better knowledge and wisdom and he frequently apologize to her and to his kids for being wrong about something. Yes, he was a strong father, but not in any way an abusive one.

What I would like to know is why feminists vilified the show instead of promoting its portrayal of fatherhood?

In more recent years Bill Cosby was almost a perfect father in “The Cosby Show.” He was anything but patriarchal, but he was firm with his kids and portrayed wise, loving fatherhood.

Where are the good male role models in popular culture? I’m not talking about ones without flaws; I’m talking about ones that love their families and are neither silly (like “Phil” in “Modern Family”) or sour and emotionally withdrawn (like “Jay” in the same show). Sure, both of those characters do some good things and have positive characteristics, but they could hardly be said to be model fathers.

The other evening, after I had worked on my book all day, I sat down at the TV and flipped channels. I landed on a show I’ve never watched  before where military fathers come home to their wives and kids–often surprising them. This was a welcome relief from the routine. At least for a few minutes we saw some really outstanding fathers–more than a few who cried about returning home to their children.

Would that a TV show would include just one really good father without having to bring out his “dark side.”

Maybe if society went out of its way to reward fathers who support their families, love them and bless them, and are competent and strong without any dark side, fathers would have more extrinsic motivation to by like that. Right now, what reward or acknowledgment does a good father get other than from his own family? All he sees and hears around him are negative images and messages about men and fatherhood.

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  • Felix Alexander

    Two things, I love the Simpsons—but only the first four or five series. In the beginning, Homer (the father, in case you don’t know it) was a good father with a few typical problems. He tries to do the right thing by his kids, he really does, but he screws up, he manages his time badly, he goes off and does something for himself first. But after the first few years, he begins to be stupid and wilfully disregards his kids. As the show develops, all the characters become far more stereotypes of themselves and far less like real people, but I’ve always hated what they did to Homer, even though I just didn’t like what became of the rest of the characters. In that, I whole-heartedly agree with your point.

    Secondly, you say “Sons internalize fatherly disapproval even when it is communicated only by a lack of verbal approval and blessing. I think it’s built into males to need that blessing from a father.”

    I’ve heard that kind of thing a number of times—but always from American sources. It seems to be a particularly American idea somehow. I know my anecdotal experience as an Australian doesn’t really confirm it at all. Perhaps there’s just something different in the culture between our countries that means we can be “sloppier” with it. Or perhaps my sample is just oddly skewed.

  • Hey now, Phil may be goofy, but I think it’s a stretch to say he has a “dark side.” Sometimes goofiness is just what kids, like his son on the show, need. Another pretty decent example of a father on TV is the main character on Friday Night Lights (the show, not the movie) set in our own great state of Texas. He definitely makes a bunch of mistakes, but overall seems to have a good relationship with his wife and daughter.

    • rogereolson

      First, let me say that Modern Family is one of my favorite shows on TV. I never miss an episode and have gone back and rented all the seasons just in case I missed an episode. My all time favorite episode is the one where Phil gets his SUV wrapped with pics of his wife and daughter but the slogans (for his real estate business) make it sound like his wife is a prostitute (“I can’t be satisfied….phone number”). The whole show is, of course, a comedy of errors. Maybe Phil doesn’t have a “dark side” except his irrational desperate need for Jay’s approval and even affection.

  • Rob

    These are all good reasons to stop watching tv. I am getting really tired of the attempts to re-write morality on network tv. In fact that seems to be the very premise of shows like Modern Family and Grey’s Anatomy (bioethics/medical ethics). Anything that is traditional or received wisdom is always attacked and progressive/revisionist views are always portrayed as being wiser and profound. Pay attention to when the sappy music plays and it will always be associated with the revisionist moral claim. This is a not very subtle attempt to generate a positive emotional association to the morality of the cultural elites.

    • rogereolson

      Sounds like you’re still watching, though! 🙂 I agree with you completely. I always watch TV with an eye and ear for exactly what you’re pointing out. There’s a lot of social engineering going on even in situation comedies.

  • Amen, and amen! You are completely right on this. We beed more positive role models. The men’s movement coming out of “Piper & Co.” has me worried though.

    Tim Dahl

  • J.E. Edwards

    Thought provoking, I say. Good post. I’m blessed to have a son and a daughter. I’ve never done it, but I would really like to look more into all the men that were greatly used of God and yet their children didn’t seem to follow their father’s God. Some of Jacob’s children, Aaron, Eli the priest, Samuel, David and the list goes on. I pray my children love God and follow Him with all their heart, but am I better than these? Lord, help us to be faithful fathers. Oh, happy Father’s Day to you, Roger.

    • rogereolson

      Thanks. All those wayward children of patriarchs and prophets just confirms my Arminianism. There are no guarantees in life. People have free will (especially to do evil) and even if you bring them up in the “nurture and admonition of the Lord” they might go astray. Besides, studies have shown that peers exercise more influence on adolescents than parents.

      • I was just thinking of some of the people listed as great men of God.
        “Jacob’s children, Aaron, Eli the priest, Samuel, David ”
        When I think of these men, the terms great don’t come to mind with all of them. Like Aaron for instance. There was the golden calf incident. There was another time when he and his sister reamed Moses because he had a wife of a different color. He was Moses’ sidekick. Not much really great about him.
        Next I think of Eli the priest. He ended up being punished by God due to his negligence as a father. It cost him his life, and the life of his boys. The best thing he did was not mess up Samuel.
        Of course there was David, but he was hardly a good father figure. As always, he messed up more than he got it right. Without going into the whole adultery thing, he still played favorites with his kids. This lead to all sorts of trouble (Absalom anyone?).
        Of course, there was his favorite Solomon. The wisest of them all…who still disobeyed God by bringing in a bunch of pagan wives. He set up their false alters everywhere, which eventually lead to the decline of the nation of Israel.
        Let’s face it. The vast majority of these families is a study in dysfunction.
        All this to say, these guys weren’t “great” by much of any standard. Yet, they were still used by God. I want to be a much better dad than they were. If anything, their lack in “being fathers” gives me more of an incentive to be a better one.

        • J.E. Edwards

          While I do understand where you are coming from, I believe you are missing the point I was trying to make. I wasn’t saying these men are great father role models. I’m saying that in spite of their shortcomings God chose to use these men. They themselves loved God. Where was the disconnect with the children? How can I follow God in such a way that my children would desire to follow God? No doubt they will decide for themselves, but am I being obedient? I can’t create a desire in my own children, but I will model what loving God looks like and Lord-willing, live my life in a winsome way (if you will) that they will follow for themselves.

  • Ivan A. Rogers

    I’m sure you’ve noticed lately that invariably male TV figures are depicted as slovenly, effeminate, bumbling, pratfalling, ding-a-lings? Virtually every TV commercial shows the male in a bad light.

    • rogereolson

      Agreed. I wonder if that has anything to do with the fact that women have flooded the advertising business in America? It is perhaps the only major “industry” where women earn more than men. However, perhaps they are just playing to a general social attitude about men because it works–to sell products. What I notice even more is that women are rarely represented as anything but strong, right, competent, independent, etc., in commercials.

  • J.E. Edwards

    I would agree with you, but I don’t think this has anything to do with Arminianism or Calvinism (per se). As a matter of fact, based upon our agreement on the depravity of man, I would say that it is because of the effects of our depraved nature upon the will of man that he goes astray. We want to. As far as studies go….? Lol. I’m not concerned with them. They aren’t the ones laboring to bring up children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Just sayin’:)

  • Marshall

    “nurture and admonition of the Lord”…a whole book could be written about this alone. I am blessed to have 5 children. I pray for Fathers (including myself) to have the strength and courage to be committed to obedience daily, first and foremost sharing the love of Jesus in our families in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

    Rom 12-1-2:

    I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, [which is] your reasonable service.
    And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what [is] that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.

  • gingoro

    Roger I was going to respond to this post in a more timely fashion but it was too painful! My sonès wife is separating so that she can do her own thing and have more control over how the money that my son earns is spent.
    Essentially I left home at the end of grade 9 and had been at boarding school since kindergarten. My fatherès attitude toward my brother and I was summed up in his words that he hated to waste his precious time on my brother. So fathers are a sore point with me.
    Dave W

    • rogereolson

      You are not alone. Many of us had profoundly flawed fathers (and sometimes mothers).