Don’t Leave Us Fatherless
A regular article written by Phillip Jensen in his role as Dean of Sydney at St Andrew's Cathedral.
5th September 2014
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The calendar of modern Australia carries some of the old, Christian celebrations such as Easter and Christmas as well as some modern, religious celebrations such as ANZAC day, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.
Both Mother’s and Father’s Day, as we now celebrate them, were started by American Christians and began as celebrations in their churches. Mother’s Day was begun by Anna Marie Jarvis in 1908, and Father’s Day was started by Sonora Smart Dodd in 1910. (To find the background to these two commencements go to: http://phillipjensen.com/articles/the-mothers-of-mothers-day/ and http://phillipjensen.com/articles/the-foundation-of-fathers-day/)
While there are differences of dates and times, the idea of the community celebrating motherhood and fatherhood by honouring their mothers and fathers on one Sunday of the year has spread around the world. Sadly, it is the increased sales of chocolate, flowers, tools and car accessories that have etched these holidays permanently into our diary.
However, honouring fatherhood and fathers is important for reasons other than having a fun day and keeping the economy prosperous. Fathers make a distinctive and highly valuable contribution to the welfare of their families. Their place is part of the created order and reflects God’s purposes for the world.
Research in recent years has discovered the important and distinctive contribution that fathers make in a family. The growing number of absentee fathers has shown, statistically, the damage and difficulty of growing up without a father. Fathers are not simply another parent or another adult to care for the children. Their mode and method of parenting is quite different to mothers and balancing the two parents enriches normal childhood experience.
The United States Department of Health and Human Services details some of the direct and indirect impacts of fathers on children’s well-being including their cognitive abilities, educational achievements, psychological well-being and social behaviour. For example “Fathers who treat the mothers of their children with respect and deal with conflict within the relationship in an adult and appropriate manner are more likely to have boys who understand how they are to treat women and who are less likely to act in an aggressive fashion toward females. Girls with involved, respectful fathers see how they should expect men to treat them and are less likely to become involved in violent or unhealthy relationships. In contrast, research has shown that husbands who display anger, show contempt for, or who stonewall their wives (i.e., "the silent treatment") are more likely to have children who are anxious, withdrawn, or antisocial.” https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/usermanuals/fatherhood/chaptertwo.cfm)
It is one of the problems of egalitarian feminists that they confuse equality with sameness. So, in our language today, we are being discouraged from talking of using gender specific words such as ‘father’ and ‘mother’ instead of the unisex word: ‘parent’. Similarly, it is no longer politically correct to talk of a ‘spouse’, for we now have to talk of a ‘partner’, so as to avoid implying that marriage is better than living together! Thus, ‘fathers’, ‘mothers’, ‘husbands’ and ‘wives’ have been replaced by ‘parents’ and ‘partners’. It is fascinating that even the words ‘engaged’ and ‘fiancé’ now mean living together with or without the intention of marrying.
All this is contrary to what we now know about parenting. So the US Dept of Health and Human Services reports that “Caring, involved fathers exist outside of marriage. They are more likely, however, to be found in the context of marriage. …research consistently shows that the married mother-and-father family is a better environment for raising children than the cohabitating (living together) mother-and-father family.”
This is consistent with Christian expectation. For God has created us as males and females in his image so that we can be united as husbands and wives in fulfilling his purpose of being fruitful, multiplying and filling the earth (Genesis 1:26-28, 2:18-25). God’s aim for our unity as husbands and wives is that we may have godly offspring (Malachi 2:15). And creation itself bears testimony to the normality of father and mother bringing children to birth and raising them to adulthood.
Sadly, through death and disease or the sinful hardheartedness of humanity it is not always possible for children to be raised by their biological parents. Yet, the well attested difficulties for children of single parenting is consistently minimised if not denied, by the proponents of easy divorce. It is folly to suggest that raising children alone is easy let alone desirable. More foolish still, is the intentional attempt to have and raise children outside the context of their biological parents. The recent public arguments about international surrogacy show just some of the problems when money is introduced into reproduction and child rearing.
Yet, it is not a social structure that raises children but people. We may advocate one structure as preferable because it fits with our biology, creation and divine purpose, but it is parents who raise children not structures. Biological parents can do a wonderful job or be absolute disasters, just as adoptive parents can be wonderful or disastrous. The problem is not the structure, per se, but the sacrificial love of parents that puts the child’s interests ahead of their own. Married couples can fail to love their children as they should just as by dint of sacrificial love some widowed or deserted parents do a wonderful job of compensating for their loss. These single parents need to be encouraged and cheered on, in their valiant attempts to raise their children against the current. But in our encouragement of them we must not pretend that their task is as easy as raising children with their own spouse. For marriage provides not only another loving parent but one of the opposite sex who will bring a different perspective on life and a different manner of relating to the children.
This weekend we honour fathers who stick to their task of caring for their children and their children’s mother. We need to thank God for them as we pray for them in their God given task.