I hate Father's Day.
Offhand I can name at least five teenage girls who lost their dads on January 12, 2010, and the pain of having no dad on a day when Facebook is basically an endless parade of father-daughter photos.... It was painful for me to view them just because I love those teenage girls, so I can't imagine what it feels like for them, year after year. As I scrolled through literally dozens of "daddy daughter dance" photos, I think of how those girls will one day be walked down the aisle by brothers or grandfathers.
Those five girls whose fathers were taken by the earthquake are the dramatic stories, but unfortunately not the most common. I may have five students whose fathers have died, but I probably have five or fifteen times that many whose lives are enduringly scarred by their dads.
We talk a lot about fathers in English class. Between Joe in Great Expectations, Okonkwo in Things Fall Apart, Pap in Huckleberry Finn, Aryeh in My Name is Asher Lev, and Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, we are basically constantly talking about who is a good father, and what exactly that means. I have read dozens of pages of pain spilled on pages when it comes to fathers. In fact, I would say the largest wound inside the largest number of my students finds its genesis in fatherhood.
"My dad likes me better when I'm skinny."
"I make all As, but my dad is still disappointed. I can never make him happy. He's never said 'I love you'."
"My mom told my dad about the sexual abuse in her past, and he responded by beating her."
"My dad has a girlfriend, and a child with her. He gave them my college money."
I am not exaggerating or creating one single fiction. Every phrase here is welded to a face and a handwriting and a name. And then there are many more that are less dramatic...
"My dad works all day, every day. Even at home he's working."
"I think I'm more mature than my dad. He's like the irresponsible teenager."
"My dad's just not the same anymore. He's never happy."
Wound after wound after wound after wound.
I sat across from men at parent conferences,
seething, boiling, stewing,
"I know what you've said to her" seeping through my neurons.
And this is what I've come to believe:
We should cancel Father's Day.
We should replace it with a day to celebrate fathering, the more important and much more difficult work.
I look back in my memory of growing up, and I think about Randy Johnson, my youth pastor, who practiced fathering probably thousands of kids in several decades of youth ministry. I think about my brother's Young Life leader Tom Young, the last one to ever give up on one of his boys when all the parents had. Fathering for him involved taking the rottenest, ornery-est skinny suburban hoodlums on bike trips, camping trips, and Jeep offroading trips. I think about Art McMahon, who for six years has been fathering by coaching Haitian teenagers in the hottest after-school sun you've ever felt. The boys quote him in English papers frequently, and I've seen Art reduce a huge teenage boy to tears about the moral failure of not turning in homework, all without ever raising his voice. The boys with the absent fathers, the cruel fathers, the workaholic fathers- they all blossom under the loving yet demanding discipline of the basketball team. Art's wife is about to give birth to his first son, but really he already has dozens, because of all the fathering he's done alongside his assistant coaches Ben and Josh.
Randy and Tom and Art and all the men like them should get the handwritten cards, the ugly ties, the golf balls. I wish I could reassign all the world's children to those willing to do fathering, not just procreating. The long hard slog of loving discipline, explaining, pushing, encouraging, coaching, guiding, picking up, comforting- that's what needs recognizing, whether it comes from a biological dad or not.
I don't know if God wants every man to procreate, but I do believe that God requires every man to step in and do some fathering to the flocks around him. Men, find a herd, a passel, a gaggle of boys and girls. Some of them have sucky, no 'count fathers, I promise you (I've read their homework). Step up and do some fathering.
I'll celebrate that.