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In Praise of Fathers

alec vanderboom

I came of age in polite, liberal circles where the term “two parent households” replaced the vernacular “nuclear family.” My sociology professor at Smith carefully footnoted each study which praised children raised with both a mother and a father in the house by stating between sips from her Clearly Canadian water bottle, “this also applies to gay and lesbian families. What matters is there are two people concerned about the children, not their gender.” When I got to law school, these studies were pushed away even farther due to the many single moms in my class with happy, sweet-faced kids.

I had a great shock to find, when I started my own family, that Fathers are so very, very important. My husband isn’t just another pair of arms to hold a fussy baby or another pair of eyes to watch for a toddler who likes to escape out the patio door. His contribution to family life is more than earning money for our daily bread or running trips to the grocery store when Mom is laid up with pregnancy pains.

My husband’s gender has a powerful effect on his parenting style. Fathers are just different. That is a good thing, a necessary thing. A newborn's screams will send her nursing mother into a panic. Her cries don't have the same effect on her father. This difference insures that a baby will be fed promptly and yet will also transition into a crib at some point in her life.

In my family, Dad handles the tough jobs, bath time for wiggly infants, first-aid for bloody cuts, dog walks in the sleet. He’s also the one who actively encourages “dangerous” activities such as crossing the monkey bars at age 18 months and using real golf clubs at age 3. Dad is the one who says go ahead and or leap into leaf piles with your church clothes on or jump into mud puddles higher than your rain boots.

Some how kids seem to come out better with a “be careful” voice of motherhood and the “go for it” adventurousness of fatherhood. I was still counting a “mom and a dad” as a plus, instead of a necessity as insisted by the Catholic Church.

Lately, I've run into the subtle scars with children in our neighborhood who are growing up in divorced families. “You can’t move! It’s dangerous on the first floor” the three playmates of my daughter solemnly stated when Hannah said she was moving from apartment number 304 to 103.

Jon and I puzzled over that statement. The girls live in the same apartment building on the fourth floor with their mother. “Why would the girls and think the first floor is dangerous? They must have heard that from their mom.” We live on one of the safest streets imaginable. “It must be because she feels more vulnerable as a single-mom,” was my husband’s final conclusion.

I had this sense of how lucky I was, to have a 6-foot man in my house and his ferocious looking, but gentle lamb of a Samoyed, Sara. My children and I sleep in deep security, even in a large metropolitan city.

That feeling of blessedness came again while I watched “Pride.” In the movie, the swim coach goes head to head with a gang leader to save some of his swim team from heading down a dangerous path. “It was important for the guys that their coach was a man,” I said. “They sort-of have a fatherly feeling towards him. I’m not sure a female coach would have gotten the same results.”

“It would have been even more powerful, if it one of the boy’s actual fathers confronted the gang leader. That coach just says that he’d take a bullet for his swim team. I would actually take a bullet for Lex.” His tone is extremely firm. I take a look at his normally gentle eyes; they are flashing a steely blue. He’s serious, I think.

It’s wonderful having a father. He gives cuddles and reads “Black Beauty” and brings home leftover chocolate cake from work. He also has a quiet strength that protects our family.

This advent season I have some many people to pray for. I’m adding prayers for all those white, African-American, and Latino children who are growing up without fathers in their houses. Their childhood monsters are real, not imaginary ones that hide under the bed. Even though these sons have a greater need, they are less likely to have a noble man risk a bullet to pull them out of harm’s way.

St. Joseph pray for us. Protect our children from the modern day King Herrods and inspire more men to follow your holy example