This Sunday we celebrate Father’s Day, an observance conceived by the daughter of a widowed Civil War veteran in 1910. In 1966, President Lyndon Johnson proclaimed the third Sunday in June as Father’s Day, thus making it a national observance. Six years later, President Richard Nixon signed a law making it an official observance.
A lot has changed in our society since the first Father’s Day was observed. According to a recent Pew study, only 11% of children lived apart from their fathers in 1960. U.S. Census Bureau data from 2017 indicates that 19.7 million children (more than one in four) now live without a father.
The breakdown of what many call traditional family values has contributed to a decline in the two-parent household. According to Pew, nearly half of all fathers, 46 percent, now have at least one child born out of wedlock. About 17% of men with biological children have fathered their children with more than one woman. The statistics are even grimmer for people living in poverty.
Gregory Slayton, a former U.S. ambassador to Bermuda and author of “Be a Better Dad Today” (2012), told Catholic News Service (CNS) that children who grow up without a dad are three to six times more likely to spend time in prison, become addicted to drugs, drop out of school and have children out of wedlock.
In response to the growing absence of fathers in America, the National Fatherhood Initiative was founded in 1994. The nonprofit organization works with community agencies to promote training and skill-building resources for fathers. It also lobbies for legislation that promotes and supports family programs. The National Fatherhood Initiative has online resources available at fatherhood.org.
Another key to successful fatherhood is faith. According to Slayton, reclaiming Father’s Day as an occasion of joy for all children begins with prayer.
“Faith is an absolutely critical tool in being a good father,” he told CNS. “Having a long-term relationship with God means you think in the long term for your family.”
Fathers also need inspiration and the model of modern manhood, according to St. John Paul II, is the foster father of Jesus, Joseph. (Some countries actually celebrate Father’s Day on March 19, the feast of St. Joseph.)
“The church deeply venerates this (Holy Family), and proposes it as the model of all families,” wrote John Paul in his 1989 apostolic exhortation, Redemptoris Custos. “In this family, Joseph is the father: His fatherhood is not one that derives from begetting offspring; but neither is it an ‘apparent’ or merely ‘substitute’ fatherhood. Rather, it is one that fully shares in authentic human fatherhood and the mission of a father in the family.”
Bishop David Ricken, in proclaiming a “Year of St. Joseph” last March, echoed the words of St. John Paul, calling on fathers to look to St. Joseph for inspiration. “The example of St. Joseph is not one who leads through dominance, but one who leads through service and humility,” said Bishop Ricken.
These words are also encouraging for men who are stepfathers, adoptive fathers and surrogate fathers, such as Big Brothers, all of whom welcome, with loving arms, children in need of fathers.
This Father’s Day, in addition to honoring your father, offer a prayer for fatherhood. Seek St. Joseph’s intercession, that all fathers be present in the lives of children. Men need as much help as they can get to realize the awesome responsibility they have in nurturing our youth.