For dads and dad-dads everywhere

June 20, 2009

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“If I have one urgent piece of practical advice for young men today, it’s this: Do not marry and do not have children.” –Stephen Baskerville, former president, American Coalition for Fathers and Children

If I have one urgent piece of practical advice for young men today, it’s this: Look forward with great hope to the day you marry and have children.

True, fathers live in perilous times. With about half of North American marriages ending in divorce, and men often getting ripped apart in child custody battles, folks like Stephen Baskerville sound a real warning.

In fact, research shows that men are much more likely than women to commit suicide after a separation, especially if they’re falsely accused of abuse.

No, there are no guarantees in family life. On his wedding day, my own father would have never imagined that his wife, my mother, Hannelore, would develop severe mental illness, commit suicide and leave him a widower with two young kids.

But this is not about darkness. Nor is this about fear. This is about a declaration that my own son — almost four years old — is saying regularly to remind me that there truly is nothing like fatherhood.

Of course, little Jonathan says many entertaining things, like, “Dad, when you grow up, are you going to be dead?” Hey, is that a quip on how fast I’m growing up? What has really intrigued me, though, is his repeated comment that “You’re such a Dad-Dad.”

Keep in mind that in Uganda, where my family lives most of the year, a putter motorcycle is a “boda-boda,” and this moment is called “now-now.”

Nevertheless, unsure of exactly what he means, I’ve asked Jon if it’s good that I’m such a Dad-Dad.

And he has assured me, “Yeah, Dad.”

So it sits. Like many young men, I was once happy being single without matching socks. Now I’m a bona fide Dad-Dad, a product of not just a broken home, but of a healing that has led to healthy relationships, good choices and new purpose. My growing family — including Jon’s sister Elizabeth — now has a third child, Hannah Laura, a young Ugandan orphan being adopted by my wife Jean and myself.

As a traveller, I also now see a certain honour in being a Dad-Dad from a culture that, while imperfect, offers fathers a tremendous heritage. It’s no coincidence that the intimate term Dad came into the English lexicon some time before “Mom” did. That we even set aside Father’s Day every year shows something inherently good in our culture’s DNA.

Regrettably, like Mother’s Day, the annual celebration can get lost in commercialism. No surprise, some 75 years ago it was New York City retailers who first helped legitimize Father’s Day.

Still, worldwide, this is more than what most men get. In Africa, population 970 million, men often have several “wives” and a multitude of children. Each child can only find so much attention. And while many African fathers are caring, they rarely get societal reflection on their roles. Dorothy, a Ugandan family friend in Canada, tells me plainly, “I’ve noticed Canadian fathers show more love to their kids.”

Fatherhood will never be anxiety-free, especially during economic storms. And Western zeitgeist tends to make parenthood difficult. Still, North American men can stand on the shoulders of their history.

It was Second World War general Douglas MacArthur who once said: “By profession I’m a soldier, and I take pride in that. But I’m 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’s my hope that my son, when I’m 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.”

I hope the same for my son, and my daughters: that they would know the deep love of that divine Dad-Dad. I know I’m not alone.

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June 20, 2009 • Posted in ,
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