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Be Your Children’s Father, Not Their Friend

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What happened here?

Sometime last century, maybe the ’70s, a number of dads resigned their position. They didn’t want to be dads. That position drew way too much criticism. Dads had rules. Dads had stances. Dads dragged the whole family to worship regardless of whether the kids were sleepy or grumbling or hated the service. Dads had rules about homework being done before the TV was turned on. Rules about lying. Rules about stealing. Rules about cussing. Rules about using deodorant. Rules about the way their daughters could look and dress. This particular rule involved countless hours of crying and being told “You hate me,” but dads were unmoved.

Then somewhere along the line, a collective sigh went up from dads. Moms thought dads were being too hard on their kids. Television commentators thought dads were being too hard. Vogue and Cosmopolitan thought dads were being too hard. There were television shows about grumpy, bumbling dads. Commercials about mean dads who were useless in the kitchen. Movies about dads way, way too hard on their kids.

“Kids aren’t happy!” blared the news bulletins. Highly educated shrinks weighed in with ominous findings: “Rules don’t lead to happy kids.” All fingers pointed to the culprit: dad. This man had to be slowed down. He wasn’t only ruining our kids—HE WAS MAKING THEM UNHAPPY!

What a gigantic, colossal, horrific finding. Society woke up to the fact that kids didn’t need responsibilities or ethics or morality or expectations or a relationship with God or good grades or a sense of accomplishment; what they needed was to be happy. To be indulged, to be spoiled. For their lives to be made—easy. And who better to do that than the chief villain in this whole drama of child raising: dad.

So dads shifted paradigms. No longer did we ask “Did you do your homework?” but instead, “Did you have fun in school today?” What was the point in asking “What did you learn about God today?” when you know His rules are over the top. Rather, “Was church school fun today?” became our concern. If teachers are yelling at boys to shut up and listen, well, that’s not fun. We must meet with the teachers to instruct them on not damaging our children’s sense of self-esteem. If coaches don’t play our girls because they’re out of shape—gasp!—not fun! Need a meeting with the coach to remind him we’re all in this for fun. If our kids are frowning at night, we go into apoplexy about the thought, “THEY’VE HAD A BAD DAY. THEY’RE NOT HAPPY.”

This fixation on our children’s happiness has become a national obsession. Yet curiously, more children are being treated for depression, more children are in therapy, more children are in the court system, more children are drug-dependent, more children are alcoholics, more children are starting sex earlier and earlier, more children can’t compete in the educational system, and what are dads doing about all this? Well we’re worried sick about our children’s happiness!

Not about their morals or their values or their spirituality or their integrity or their honor or their behavior. But about their happiness. As if happiness mattered one whit in their formation as adults. And this should be the difference between dads and friends. Friends don’t tell each other to grow up, straighten up, tell the truth, go to church, act like a man, behave, study, work, and obey.

That’s the role of a dad. And if dads are confused about that role, imagine how confused their kids are.

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About Harry H Harrison Jr.

  • irene wagner

    The article was good, Harry. Nothing wrong with it.