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By Steve Dennis
The idea for a special day to honor fathers began in Spokane, Washington in 1909 as Sonora Smart Dodd was listening to a Mother's Day sermon. Having been raised by her father, after her mother died, Sonora wanted to acknowledge his selfless sacrifice and courage. Sonora's father was born in June, so she chose to hold the first Father's Day celebration in 1910. The observance of Father's Day grew and in1972, President Richard Nixon established a permanent national observance of Father's Day to be held on the third Sunday of June.
Nearly a century later, fatherhood has become both something to celebrate and a significant social concern. Today more than perhaps at any other time in history there are many absent fathers. Nearly one third of children in United States are born to an unwed mother where often there is little commitment or involvement on the part of the father. Research has shown that fatherless children are more likely to drop out of high school, run away from home, abuse alcohol and other drugs, become pregnant as teens, and engage in delinquency and crime. Furthermore, the rates of poverty are significantly higher for single-parent families-- most of which are headed by mothers.
While there are more absent fathers than ever before, there are also many nurturing and involved fathers. The rise in dual earner families and the loosening of gender roles have made fathering a hands-on activity that requires more than economic support and distant parenting. Protecting, feeding, playing, reading, comforting, bathing, clothing, correcting, empathizing, teaching, loving and supporting may all be part of family life for the involved dad. In fact, some may wonder if gender roles have become so blurred or similar that the distinct contributions of mothers and fathers have been diminished. In some settings, even the terms "mother" and "father" have fallen into disfavor because they are said to perpetuate gender discrimination. "Parent" is often the preferred term. Still, The Family: A Proclamation to the World makes it clear that "gender is an essential characteristic of individual, premortal, mortal, and eternal identify and purpose." It further states, "By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. And these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obliged to help one another as equal partners."
While some of the gender differences between males and females are certainly cultural constructions others are divine and part of God's great plan. Children benefit from the complementary roles of mothers and fathers. Each makes unique contributions. Research indicates fathers contribute significantly to a child's school achievement, identity formation, self-esteem, and development of appropriate limits and boundaries. Of course, for a variety of reasons, a father or mother may not be present. In such circumstances, we simply do our best to surround our children with positive and caring role models and trust in the Lord.
Being a father is both a joyful and solemn responsibility that extends into eternity. It requires sacrifice and service. It results in heartache and happiness. But with an open heart and practice we can improve. Here are seven ways to be a better dad.
Fathers, view your awesome responsibility with a long term lens. In a very real sense we are not only parenting our children, but we are setting the foundation for generations to come. Each of our lives have been shaped by individuals long deceased. So too are we establishing the patterns of living that will influence our grandchildren and great-grandchildren to come. President Gordon B. Hinckley reminded us, "All that you have of body and mind will be transmitted through you to the generations yet to come, and it is so important, so everlastingly important, my brothers and sisters, that you do not become a weak link in that chain of your generations." (Regional conference, Oahu, Hawaii, 23 January 2000.) May the hearts of the fathers be turned to their children so in time the hearts of the children may be turned to God.
Steve Dennis is a member of the faculty in the Department of Home and Family at Brigham Young University - Idaho