By Chris Horton
Today it’s very hard to be a father, and that can be hard for everyone in the family.
For men, who see our ability to bring home a paycheck as a big part of what makes us a man, of what makes us worthy to belong to a family, not being able to provide for them can be devastating. But we are worth much more than that to our children. This is a good day for us and for our families to reflect on what we’re worth, what we bring, why we’re needed.
Times are hard, and it’s natural to feel that it’s our fault, our personal failure. The “great ones”, the ones who’ve made it and the ones who were “born on third base and think they hit a triple”, are trying to blame this disaster on us and get us blaming ourselves and on each other for it, but it’s really not our fault. When you’re struggling to survive and it’s not working, you have to keep on trying – and to do that well you have to take responsibility for the results you get. But when it’s not working no matter how hard you try because of things beyond your control, there’s nothing to be gained and everything to lose from beating yourself up, drugging yourself and taking it out on your family.
Unemployment levels are higher than at any time since the Great Depression. The De Facto Unemployment Rate (DUFR, calculated by the Center for Working Class Studies, counting everyone who would be working full time if they could but can’t) is hovering around 30%. And that’s not Dad’s fault.
Those lucky enough to have jobs are being speeded up, pushed, jerked around and played against each other in a way that we haven’t seen in living memory, and employers are shamelessly using undocumented immigrants (“illegal aliens”) to drive down wages and break our unions. And that’s not Dad’s fault (or the fault of the immigrants, for that matter!)
Nationally 13% of employers cut wages last year and half of them froze pay (which amounts to a pay cut.) Those who’ve lost jobs often go back to work for much lower pay, and many will never get back to where we were. And that’s not Dad’s fault.
Most of us have most of our wealth tied up in our homes, and now nearly half of all homeowners are “under water”, and by the dozens every day we’re losing them. It’s hard to feel like much of a man when one loses the family home and has to take the kids out of their school and go looking for a place to live, and maybe Dad could have done something different; but this is a global catastrophe, and that’s not Dad’s fault.
For those of us who’ve built a business, meeting payrolls and bank payments in these times can be a nightmare, and for too many it is ending badly. It’s hard to feel like much of a man when you’ve just lost the business that was to be your legacy to your children, and maybe Dad could have done something different; but this disaster is not Dad’s fault.
to Dads need to be Dads, to be part of the family and examples to their children, no matter how hard times get. Children need the example of how a man doesn’t give up, disappear or get hateful even when things look grim. They need to see their Dad go on loving them and their mother, looking out for them and for their mother, no matter how bad things get. They need to see how a man can get really, really angry and still control himself, still not hurt them or their mother.
Being a boy in this world can be confusing even in good times, and it’s more confusing now. Boys aren’t just defective girls. They’re boys, and they grow up to be men, husbands, providers, dads. Only a man can show them how, and the one they’re watching is Dad.
Being a girl in this world can be pretty confusing too, and life gets pretty rough for a girl who doesn’t learn how to pick a good man. The men in her life as she grows up are the ones who show her what a man looks like. And the one she’s watching is Dad.
Being a mother is hard in this world. Holding a family together, managing all the conflicts and relationships, helping to earn the money, keeping everyone safe and fed and doing their schoolwork, and keeping track of everyone is too much for one person. Plenty of women do it alone these days, but not many will tell you it’s a good idea. Having a partner who can step in and take charge when Mom’s at her wits ends, going crazy or needing a break is huge. Having a partner to talk things through with, make plans with, take comfort from is huge. Having a partner to get behind closed doors and let it all out with, to cry and love and be loved by, is huge. And the one she needs to be this partner is usually Dad.
And then there are some lessons to learn about life that only a family can teach, and that Dad is needed to help teach.
Lessons about sticking up for each other and looking out for each other and having each other’s backs. It’s the children who learned this from their Dads who are prepared to bring us all together to solve this crisis.
Lessons about doing whatever is needed, no matter the personal cost. Keeping your word, doing your part and coming through. The ones who learned this from Dad are the ones you want for your battle-buddies, whatever struggles life brings you.
Lessons about how loving means sharing and giving and being of service to each other. The children who learned this from their Dads are the ones who will be best at working together to build a better world out of the wreckage.
So it’s really hard when Dad can’t bring home a paycheck, or when he comes home feeling angry, powerless, exhausted or insecure. None of us are perfect, and Dad’s made his share of mistakes, but he’s trying, God knows he’s trying. And he’s still needed, more than ever.
This is a good time to give him your appreciation.
And Dads, this is a good time to allow yourself to take it in.