Today is Father's Day. For me it is a bittersweet day as my father died when I was only 24 years of age. I cannot spend today with my father, much less buy him a tie or aftershave lotion. While I loved my mother, I do think that I was always closer to my father. He was quite likely the single most influential person in my life. Much of what is good about me, I do think I owe to him.
Unfortunately, I think to some degree that in American society today the importance of the father is being trivialised. Indeed, one can see this to some degree in American pop culture. It is true that the inept father has been a stock character in many sitcoms. Certainly the dad on Hazel (or anyone else n that show except for Hazel the housekeeper...), Herman Munster, and Homer Simpson are far from being the sharpest tools in the shed. But it seems to me the image of the inept father has moved from being a stock character to an outright stereotype of the common male.This is particularly true of many commercials. I seem to recall a series of particularly offensive J. C. Penny commercials in which kids under the supervision of the clueless father would be destroying their house while their mother is out shopping. The message behind those commercials was clear to me--the typical father is too stupid to take care of his own children! Sears has run very similar commercials in which father simply seem incapable of taking care of children. A recent Verizon DSL commercial was nearly as offensive as the J. C. Penny ads. In the commercial a father, who apparently knows nothing of the Internet, is trying to help his daughter research her homework online. Finally the mother tells the father to go walk their dog. The daughter looks downright relieved. And then there are those Hardees commercials with the tagline, "Without Hardees, some men would starve..."
Beyond the commercials, it seems to me that sitcoms featuring inept fathers have become much, much more common. In fact, most of the current crop of CBS sitcoms feature fathers who are nearly as clueless as old Herman Munster was: Everybody Loves Raymond,. Still Standing, and Listen Up all feature fathers who are none too bright. Of course, CBS is not the only network which features bumbling fathers. On ABC the fathers of My Wife and Kids and According to Jim are just as stupid. It seems to me that in the world of TV sitcoms, there are far fewer fathers like Andy Taylor or Ward Cleaver and far more fathers like Herman Munster or Homer Simpson, a situation which hardly reflects reality.
In my humble opinion what these commercials ignore is the importance of a father, or at least a father figure, in the lives of children, particularly boys. In her book The War Against Boys, Christina Hoff Sommers points out that it most often boys who grow up without fathers who have problems later in life. Indeed, 70 percent of all prison inmates grew up without fathers, as did 60 percent of all rapists and 72 percent of all murderers who committed their crime while still teenagers. Children without fathers are more likely to be treated for behavioural or emotional problems, successfully commit suicide while still teenagers, be suspended from school, and drop out of school. From those statistics, it seems to me that fathers are central to the development of a child's moral compass and a firm foundation in morality and ethics. Without a father, it seems to me that it is less likely for a child to be properly socialised.
Here I want to stress that I am not condemning single mothers. I have known many single mothers who have done a fine job of raising their children. My sister did an admirable job of raising my nephew (who is now a police officer). I also know a very lovely blonde who has done a very good job of raising her children, all of who are very bright and very well behaved. Not every child who grows up in a household where a father is absent or not around very often is going to become a criminal or becme mentally unbalanced. That having been said, as my sister admits, raising a son without his father being around much is not easy by any stretch of the imagination.
I must also speak in defence of televison. While there have been many very offensive commercials the past several years, there are those that show fathers in a positive light. Gerber has a wonderful ad which features a father feeding his baby son. The two of them are obviously enjoying their time together. The past few years Jiff changed their slogan to "Choosey moms, and dads, choose Jiff." Along with the change in slogan, they have a very nice commercial in which a father and daughter bond over peanut butter sandwiches. As to TV Shows, there are still many intelligent fathers to be found on them. While he has his faults, Hank Hill on King of the Hill is often the most level headed character on that show. The fathers on such dramas as Seventh Heaven, Everwood, and Smallville are also intelligent, stable characters. Fortunately, not every father featured on American television is a total boob. I can only hope that other commercials and TV shows follow these fine examples and realise that not all men are incompetent when it comes to raising a family.
Indeed, I can speak from experience. While I am biased, I feel that my father was wonderful. In terms of sense of humour and the way he dealt out punishment, he reminds me a lot of Andy Taylor on The Andy Griffith Show (must be a Southern thing...). He was very strict when it came to discipline, but always fair and even handed. He was not the sort of person who could not admit when he was wrong. He was also one of the most loving and kindest men I knew. Whenever my brother or I were sick, it was often he who took the role as chief caregiver. He was also one of the hardest working men I ever knew. He never failed to provide for our family, despite the fact that farming can often be a very risky business. He was hardly stupid, bumbling, or incompetent. To this day I still miss him, particularly on this of all days.