My girls and I make a point of sitting down each Friday evening, often over homemade pizza or pasta, and we ask each other the same question, “so tell me about your week?” A few Fridays ago, my 6-year-old asked me why Muslims and Christians sometimes fight about God, “because there’s only one God isn’t there?” stressing that “Allah is just another name, isn’t it?” I smiled, proud of her heart, her inquisitiveness and pursuit of a God of unity. At the same time, inside I screamed, “HELP,” as I rifled through the non-existent guide to fatherhood.
The truth is, do an internet search for ‘fatherhood’ and what you find is a sobering representation of our society today. Scroll past the initial images of perfect fathers gleefully swinging children above their head; past the senseless articles of how to flex your pecs whilst on daddy duty and you quickly find yourself in the realms of abuse, absence and abandonment with little in between. How is it that in the dawning era of shared parenting and deconstructing gender stereotypes we seem to have somehow fallen into establishing an image of fathers as either saviours or sinners?
This binary view of good or bad, right or wrong, which frames fatherhood today is clearly misguided. It fails to represent and celebrate the vast majority of committed fathers who, like any other parenting figure, strive to negotiate the complex landscape of raising children in whatever shape of family that may be. We must start to celebrate our fathers, whatever the context in which they wear the badge, ‘dad.’ It’s time we separate fatherhood from the notion, and reality, of the toxic masculinity which spreads through society today. Why? Because our children need fathers; not saviours, nor sinners but just dads; messy, exhausted, proud and brave; timid, honest, depressed and… present; a bundle of paradox who fails as much as he succeeds, but keeps going anyway because that’s what he does, because he’s a dad.
Some might say that we should feel dejected at the scale of the issues surrounding absent fathers. Indeed, research from the Centre for Social Justice found that in 2016, a young person sitting their GCSEs was more likely to have a smartphone than a father in their household, with almost a third of children living in single parenthomes never seeing their father. More than ever, it’s clear that regular contact and a meaningful relationship with a father figure can make all the difference to a struggling child or young person.
So, for each one of us out there: let’s hear this as encouragement! Fathers and father figures - you can and will have an incredible impact on the children and young people growing up in our world. We don’t have to be perfect, for none of us are; we just have to come as we are, willing to get down in the dirty nappies, grazed knees, questions with no answers and moments of unspeakable joy.
This summer presents such an opportunity; school’s out and there are adventures to be had. So I leave you with a challenge. Could you carve out just one hour a week of time with your child or a child in need of some fathering this summer? Let me know how you get on. Peace and good luck.
At TLG our Early Intervention programme matches a child with a coach to meet one-to-one, once a week for one hour of focused care, support and attention. Find out how you can get involved here.
Samuel is South West Leader for TLG Early Intervention. A single father of two girls, Samuel loves spending time with his family and combined with his background in theology, is passionate about everything that TLG stands for.