A culture of fatherhood

June 19, 2009

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HAMILTON, CANADA – “You’re such a Dad-Dad.”

This phrase, a recent favourite of my three-year-old Jon, has reminded me anew that there’s nothing like fatherhood.

I’m not entirely sure what Jon means by “Dad-Dad.” He may be doing Uganda-speak—that dialect from our Ugandan home where a little putter motorcycle is a “boda-boda” and where folks say “now-now” to indicate the immediate. No, I’m not sure if I’m a “Dad-Dad,” a “dad dad,” or just a “dad”… Dad.

In either case, I’ve asked Jon if it’s good that I’m “such a Dad-Dad,” and he has assured me clearly, “Yeah, Dad.” Of course, calling one’s father “Dad” wasn’t always in vogue. At the time when Father’s Day was gaining traction some nine decades ago, certain naysayers—including some in the Church—felt that “Dad” lacked the reverence that fathers should be due. Moms at the time were still called the more formal “mother,” at least in literature of the day.

It’s an interesting historic footnote. The word “Dad” entrenched itself in the English lexicon because fathers even at that time were seen by their children as affectionate and familiar friends to lean on, not just authority figures.

In fact, the biggest adjustment North American men have had in modern times may have less to do with women’s emancipation of the latter 20th century, and more with industrialization of the latter 19th, when men—used to working on their land with their families—shifted en masse to doing their work away from home.

We tend to think that male involvement in the family evolved more recently, with the modern dad balancing baby, diaper and bottle while vacuuming the curtains. Yesteryear’s dad is painted as aloof and detached, at least until after the Leave it to Beaver era when, with his lady away working, dad had to cook the bacon rather than bringing it home.

It’s not the complete picture. And in today’s broken times with a perilous economy, North American fathers need to feel secure on history’s shoulders. Like today’s mothers, fathers don’t need to re-invent the wheel while adjusting to societal changes. All we need is already in our culture’s DNA.

This is not true for millions of fathers worldwide. In my other home, Uganda, one man often has several wives and a plethora of children. As Dorothy, a Ugandan friend now here in Canada with my family says, “One thing I’ve seen with Canadian fathers is that they show more love to their kids.”

Dorothy, born when her own father was in his 90s, adds, “Fathers who show love to their kids in Uganda are few. It depends on the time they have. That’s one thing I’ve seen with you [Canadian] people; the majority are also faithful to their wives.”

This is our heritage. Not that the West has produced faultless fathers while men in places like Uganda are all bad apples. I’ve met many admirable African men who love their children deeply.

But within their cultural contexts, many men worldwide don’t have the deep joy of having their kids call them “a Dad-Dad.”

I am profoundly thankful to be called this. But the phrase is less praise for my parenting and more a reflection of the culture that my kids have simply been born into: a culture that, more than most, encourages father involvement.

Few have described fatherhood as clearly as Second World War general Douglas MacArthur, who said, “By profession I am a soldier and take pride in that fact. But I am prouder, infinitely prouder, to be a father. A soldier destroys in order to build; the father only builds, never destroys. The one has the potentialities of death; the other embodies creation and life. And while the hordes of death are mighty, the battalions of life are mightier still.”

MacArthur continued: “It is my hope that my son, when I am gone, will remember me not for the battle, but in the home repeating with him our simple daily prayer, “Our Father who art in heaven.”

It’s the highest hope that any father anywhere can have. And a fine prayer to our heavenly Dad-Dad.

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June 19, 2009 • Posted in ,
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