I know. I know. Father’s Day was yesterday; however, I decided to allow said day to come to an end before writing on the topic. Why? Well, for starters, why does it matter when you write on a topic, especially one as meaningful and timeless as fatherhood? The other main reason is that this was my first Father’s Day as a father myself and felt a lot different than previous ones. Also, it was Sunday and I have decided to make that a day to take a break from writing. Therefore, we find ourselves at the beginning of a new week with fresh thoughts on the invaluable subject of parenting. And to be specific: male parenting.
You see, Father’s Day used to be something I avoided. This is largely due to my father passing when I was fourteen years old. Ever since that event, I found myself routinely distracted on this day. When I was lost in my rebel rousing and anger, I called it Fatherless Day. Due in part to the absence of a paternal figure. But looking back, I couldn’t have been more wrong. I have had many positive male figures in my life, it was just my perception that was turning this event from something worth celebrating to something I detested. But now that I have a child of my own, I am able to breathe deeply and be thankful for all of the positive men in my life that shared their narratives, perspectives, beliefs and virtues but most importantly their presence. One could easily fill a book on the lasting impact of finding your own “father figures” in the absence of a biological one or the importance of providing this role in someone else’s life, but this is an article and thus calls for something far more brief. So I will do my best to do just that.
Life is an incredibly difficult landscape to navigate. The requirements and expectations on our young are demanding and constantly changing. If we think it is difficult to adapt and understand things like pandemics as adults, then imagine what must be going on in the minds of children and adolescents. They can barely understand their own biological functioning let alone the sociological intricacies of the Earth. Then of course comes puberty, where things really get out of whack. We need someone to help us understand these phenomenon and our mothers and other maternal figures do a fine job of that; however, we also need the insight of our males. We need, and will likely always need, a balance in parental leadership. You need dads and you need moms. Doesn’t matter if you have two dads or two moms. Or a single parent. An individual will always develop optimally with the influence of the opposite gender. Provided they are a mentally healthy individual. In my years of experience in education, I have of course, seen the impact of not-healthy parent(s) on the lives of children. Not unlike a plant that requires both sunlight and water to grow, a child needs a healthy adult male and a female to grow up confident and emotionally strong.
But what if a parental figure is missing? According to a 2019 stat, there are about 1.71 million single parent families living in Canada.* This is an increase from 1.56 million in 2010. This mean that there are thousands of children growing up without a biological mother or father in their lives.** This suggests that we are raising more and more children in single parent families. What will they grow up to become? According to one article, children with two parents reportedly have better success not just at school and childhood but later in life.*** But is this true? Are children doomed to failure and to repeat the cycle of becoming single-parents themselves? Absolutely not (nor did the article conclude this). But for their best chances and optimal mental and emotional development, they need a positive role model in their lives. Both male and female. This doesn’t have to be a biological father or mother. Why? Because these two different individuals can teach us not only how to be and how to act but also that we are valued, we are important and we are cared for. In my experiences, children with active male and female role models in their lives are far less likely to develop issues regarding mental health or at-risk behaviours. That is not to say that individuals with these role models will never suffer from these problems; however, it seems they are far less likely for this to occur.
So what is the solution? Like anything complex, the solution is far more simple in writing than in practice. We simply need more positive role models in the lives of children and adolescents. The reality is that there are not a lot of them out there, especially males. Which returns us to the focus of this article: paternal figures. I work in the field of elementary education, and let me tell you, there are not a lot of young males in my field. At least based on my experiences. I honestly don’t have the stats to back this information up but anyone who has a child who has been through the elementary gamut can likely attest: male teachers are an anomaly. Or, ask anyone who has tried to find a mentor through Big Brothers. Not a lot of them out there. At least, not enough to meet the rising demands. Therefore, we need more positive males out there. We need more paternal figures.
Take it from me. When my father passed, a void was created. Now I could have filled that void with anger, sadness and all kinds of bad decision making. And to some extent I did, or eventually did, but a lot of that was delayed. This is large part in due to the positive male role models I had in my life. Teachers, uncles, family friends. I was very fortunate for these people who tried to best guide me and help me navigate and understand being a man (which has a myriad of different meanings and definitions influenced by culture, sexuality, etc.). Unfortunately, I didn’t always listen to the advice and wavered between accepting guidance and leadership and outright rejecting these values in exchange for polluting my mind with negativity. Again, I was fortunate enough to not get consumed in my self-destruction and pity. It would not be an exaggeration for me to say that a teacher saved my life when I was a teenager because he was there for me and he cared.
Who knows how many others are out there waiting to be saved? Waiting to be cared for? I am not saying that it is your job to help all the orphans out there. No, but what you can do is be there for one. And that one can one day, hopefully, be there for somebody else. Again, that isn’t your job but it could be your influence. And your influence could be the difference between a child who succeeds and a child who grows up angry at the world and her environment. I know times are busy and we all know they are not getting any quieter. Therefore, we need to make time and effort to achieve this. Maybe it’s taking your nephew to their theatre practice. Or watching your friend’s daughter play her first baseball game. Trust me when I say this, there are lots of opportunities to make a massive impact in a child’s life that they could likely never forget their entire lives. And really, all it took was you sacrificing one afternoon of your life. In being with my own daughter, I have come to know what children want the most in the world: you. They want a loving parent. They don’t care about a trip to Mali or getting a PS5 for Christmas nearly as much as they want you to be there. They will remember playing Halo 15 on their new xbox a lot more vividly with you than by themselves.
I want to end this article by saying thank you to you. For starters, if you are reading this, then it is very likely that you are a positive role model in someones life. You are being part of the change. A change our society demands. You can help explain and explore the need to re-evaluate the problems of racism in our society. Be the example of how to treat others regardless of who they love, how they live, or how they look. You can be the difference in a person’s life and chances are, you already are. So cheers to parents. But especially thank you to all the fathers. Everywhere.
I also want to thank and dedicate this piece to all those who helped me become the father I am today.
* Statista. “Number of Single Parent Families in Canada from 2006 to 2019” https://www.statista.com/statistics/443342/single-parent-families-in-canada/
**The study defines a Two Parent Family as “a married couple (with or without children of either and/or both spouses), [or] a common-law couple (with or without children of either and/or partners)”. This stat doesn’t tell us if the child is split between two homes with a single parent at each or is strictly being raised in one home by one parent. Therefore, it suggests that a divorced family with two very involved parents could fall into the category of single parent family based on the definition.
*** Jeffreys, Branwen. “Do Children in Two-Parent Families Do Better?” https://www.bbc.com/news/education-47057787