The Importance of Fatherhood Fatherhood is the most important job that any of usincluding the President of the United States or the CEO of the world's largest companywill ever have.
It is the only role in life for which we are truly indispensible. Our futures, our family and our entire society depend on the job we do as a dad.
I would never have become half the man I am without the help, the support and the leadership of my dad. He taught me how to be a real man.
Dave H., Boston, Massachusetts Nothing I've ever done has given me more joys and rewards than being a father to my children.
Bill Cosby Somehow, much of our society has forgotten this simple fact that Bill Cosby has expressed so well in the above quote. Down through history, men have gotten great joy from being good fathers, and society has directly benefited. Fatherhood has always been one of the cornerstones of civilization. In fact, many of the most serious social issues our society wrestles with (from adult illiteracy to teenage pregnancy to increasing rates of chronic unemployment, drug abuse and mental illness) stem directly from the breakdown of fatherhood.
The statistics are abundantly clear: Children who grow up without fathers are two to three times more likely to spend time in jail, drop out of school, fail to ever hold down a long-term job, suffer from a severe mental illness, or become addicted to drugs or alcohol. And they are three to four times more likely to bear children out of wedlock themselves . . . and thus continue the cycle of social devastation that threatens our society.1
Of course, the presence or absence of a good mother is also critically important in the life of every child. While I do not want to downplay the extraordinary importance of mothers, this book is dedicated to men just like youmen who want to be strong and noble fathers for their families, and have fun doing it. I share that goal with you, and an exciting one it is! We are on a journeyyou and Iand it won't be completed this side of eternity. Becoming a good father is like running a marathon; it takes time, dedication and perseverance. In addition, like all significant journeys, we will never arrive if we don't know where we are going. The fact that we share an important goalto be strong and noble fathersis an excellent start.
Maybe you're thinking, Well, that's a good idea, but a bit old-fashioned for the twenty-first century. Or maybe you're feeling burdened by what you perceive as your failures as a father. Or maybe you're just starting out on this whole fatherhood thing and you're not really sure how it works. All good questions and valid feelings, for we have all failed at one time or another, we have all had questions about the future, and our society today vastly underestimates the importance of fathers. So, if you are a father, or even if you're just thinking about becoming a father, you are in (or about to start) the most important job of your life.
Why Is This Job So Important?
You and I will probably have many jobs in our work careersthat is the way of the modern world. A few jobs may be great, a couple will be horrible, but all will come to an end (and some will come to an end sooner than we would like). If we are deeply honest with ourselves, none of us is truly irreplaceable in our professional jobs. That's not an insultit's reality.
Among my other roles so far I have been a CEO, a venture capitalist, an ambassador and an Ivy League professor. (I've also been unemployed, but more on that in the chapter titled “How to Handle Life's Beanballs.”) In every role I have ever hadeven in roles in which I have won prestigious awards or achieved marked successI knew there were others out there who would probably do as good a job, or maybe even a better one, than me. But in my job as a dad to my children, like all dads for their kids, I am literally irreplaceable.
The same is absolutely true of you as well. You are literally the best-qualified person in the entire world for that job. There is no one elseno onewho has the genetic, emotional, spiritual and physical assets you bring to this job. No other man will ever love your children as much as you do (and I know you love your kids, or you wouldn't be reading this book). No other man is genetically and emotionally wired to understand your kids as well as you do. And no other man is likely to be as committed to helping your kids build a successful future as you are. For them, you are, quite literally, irreplaceable.
Not only are you the very best person in the world for this job, but it is also literally the most important job you will ever have. The statistics are clear: The lives of your children will be hugely impacted by the job you do as their dadand not only the lives of your children, but of their children and their children's children.
What other job will you hold that will ever bring you so much happiness over such a long period of time (the rest of your life)? What other job can so materially impact the wider world? Just consider the example of Albert Einsteinhe was a scientific genius, but he didn't think he would have gotten there without the early guidance and help of his father. And what other job pays such important dividends for future generations? Being a good father today will impact your descendants to the third and fourth generation . . . and possibly beyond.
That's right, your influence as a father goes beyond just your own children and grandchildren; it impacts society now and for generations to come. So, as a job that will last a lifetime, hold countless tangible and intangible rewards, and have almost an unlimited potential for benefiting you, your family and others long into the future, I hope you will agree with me that being a dad is the most important job you and I (or the President of the United States) will ever have.
But, being a good dad isn't only vital for the future of our families and our society; it is critical to our own development as men.
A Story from the White House I have been privileged to know a number of U.S. Presidents personallysome better than others. And no matter what you thought of him as a President, George W. Bush wasand isan exceptional father. He knows a deep secret that all great dads know: Being a good father and a faithful husband is as much of a blessing for him as it is for his wife and daughters. He understands that learning how to be a good dad has helped him to be a better man in many important ways.
Once, early in his first term as President at a beautiful evening event at the White House, he took me aside, looked me right in the eyes and said, “Gregory, you and I have a lot in common: We both married way above ourselves. Don't ever forget that.” I understood that as a reminder to always love and honor my wifesomething he told me more than once. That was very good advice then, and it still is today. But then he went on to say something even more profound: “Becoming a husband and then a dad is one of the best things that ever happened to mebecause it forced me to be a better man than I was.” The President certainly had it right. It is in bearing the burdens of family and fatherhood that our inner man grows stronger.
A Vital Step in Your Own Development How do gold medal Olympic weight lifters become so strong? How did Jamaican sprinter Usain “Lightning” Bolt become the fastest man in the world? How does a team become Superbowl champions? Believe it or not, the same way you and I become good fathers (and, in the process, much better men).
Self-sacrifice, hard work and self-discipline are some of the key building blocks to becoming a champion athlete and a championship team. These qualities are also the building blocks of champion dads of loving families. Research has long shown that men who are committed husbands and fathers are on average more productive in their jobs, enjoy better mental health, are generally happier with their lives, and contribute more to their communities than their unmarried or childless brethren.2 In fact, married people are twice as likely to be “happy” with life, and less than half as likely to be “not too happy” compared to either single, cohabiting, separated, divorced or widowed people.3
However, there is something else profoundly important about the fatherhood journey. As long as we don't give up on ourselves, or our families, we are changed into better men through the refining fire of being a father.
Let's face it: Who wants to get up at 2:00 AM to make their pregnant wife the pickle sandwich she is craving? Who wants to take baby for the umpteenth stroll in the baby carriage so Mom can get a short (and much needed) break? Who wants to clean up after a sick child, or change the bed linens after a messy sleepover, or discipline a teen who desperately needs it? In short, no one except those who seek to be champion dads.
Likewise, who wants to get up every day at 5:00 AM to run 5 or 10 miles? Who wants to do two-a-day workouts in pre-season? Who wants to push their bodies to their physical limit so they can become stronger, faster and better at their chosen sport? Again, the answer is no one except those who wish to become champion athletes.
That's the rub: There is no shortcut to becoming a champion athlete, just as there is no shortcut to becoming a good father and a good man. The very burdens that we carry for our families over time and the weight on our shoulders that can sometimes seem almost crushing are what make us better dads and stronger men. That is one of the deepest secrets of fatherhood. Not only do our wives and childrenand our society as a wholebenefit tremendously from the process of our becoming good dads, but you and I, brother, benefit as well. Again, the research backs this up. Data shows that mental health generally improves consistently and substantially after marriage and deteriorates substantially after divorce or separation. Furthermore, this research has shown that these effects occur as a result of marriage and divorce and are not due to other factors.4
Let's Take This Journey Together Unfortunately, our society has de-emphasized the importance of fathers and fatherhood during the past 50 years, and we are much the worse for it. A man's career success or his sexual prowess or the size of his car or boat or bank account are all considered, in different circles, more important than his success as a father. This is incredibly shortsighted, for the importance of all of those things will fade long before we exit this world, and they will mean nothing at all after our death. If heaven exists (as I strongly believe it does), faith, family and friendship will mean everything, while material stuff will mean nothing.
Unfortunately, in our modern age advertising is everywhere, and it tries to focus our attention each and every day on the material. But while there is nothing inherently wrong with career success or material possessions, we must keep those goals in balance with the other, much more important, goals on our life journey. That is not easy to do, especially in the twenty-first century.
Sadly, our culture provides precious little support, guidance or encouragement for fathers, even though the future of our society depends on the institution of fatherhood. That is why I wrote this book. I needed more help, more encouragement, more good ideas and great suggestions from fellow dads like you. And I suspected that there were more than a few fellow fathers who felt the same way.
So, I hope you now agree with me about the supreme importance of fatherhood for our families, our society and for ourselves. I would like us to share our fatherhood journey and encourage and strengthen one another for the road ahead. It is my hope that this book and the accompanying web tools and services that are at your disposal will be an effective tool set for you as you tackle the myriad challenges of being a good father.
Even though my wife and I have raised four wonderful kids and I have been a lifelong student of fatherhood, I have a lot more to learn from you. So log on to www.FellowshipOfFathers.com now and give me your personal feedback on this chapter and what you hope to get out of this book. I'm excited about joining you on this greatest of all of life's journeys.
For Further Reflection
[DESIGNER: SET THESE OFF IN SOME WAY IN THE TEXT]
1. Do you truly believe in your heart that being a father is the most important job you will ever have? Why or why not?
2. How would you rate yourself as a father today, on a 1 to 10 scale (with 1 as the best)? Would your wife and kids agree with that rating? Do you have the courage to ask them?
3. What would you say are your greatest opportunities for improvement as a dad? What would your wife and kids say?
Today's Quick Wins
1. Take 60 seconds to reflect on this fact: For each of your children, and for your entire family, you are quite literally completely irreplaceable,
2. Take 60 seconds to think about the extent of your power, for good or for evil, over your family's future.
3. Take 60 seconds to meditate on how you, single-handedly, can (and will) shape the future of your children and your family . . . and the influence they will have on their society and generations to come because of you.
1. Father Facts, fifth edition, National Fatherhood Initiative, 2007. http://www.fatherhood.org/organizations/programs/father-facts/overview.
2. Linda J. Waite and Maggie Gallagher, The Case for Marriage (New York: Doubleday, 2000).
4. Alex Bierman, Elena M. Fazio and Melissa A. Milkie, “A Multifaceted Approach to the Mental Health Advantage of the Married: Assessing How Explanations Vary by Outcome Measure and Unmarried Group,” Journal of Family Issues, vol. 27, no. 4, April 2006, midus.wisc.edu/findings/pdfs/281.pdf.