There’s a big difference between being a father and being a dad. The former is biological, the latter behavioral. Fathering is an act of nature, while being a dad is all nurture. It’s certainly much easier to become a father than to commit to becoming a dad.
Every child needs a dad who might or might not be his or her biological father. A dad is someone who’s there when a child needs him most, when guidance and the gifts of an open ear and caring heart are most important.
Dads come in all ages and stages of life. Grandfathers and uncles, cousins and big brothers, family friends, teachers, clergy, coaches and mentors — even commanding officers — can play the role of dad at critical moments in a young person’s life.
Foster and adoptive dads are among the most special people because their gifts are especially timely in the life of a child. Opening our doors and hearts to children whose needs are great and emotions fragile takes a certain blend of kindness and leadership. How many of us have the courage and commitment to accept another’s child as our own?
As a family policy advocate, I’ve come to believe that the absence of dads in the lives of children, either physically or emotionally, is one of the most obvious factors in contributing to childhood stress.
While it’s obvious that most moms are heroic and provide a phenomenal level of care, loving support, and family leadership, I have learned that children need more than one primary caregiver.
In studying family policy for more than 35 years, I’m convinced that when a child is not afforded the advantage of a loving and caring male model, problems are more likely. Call me a traditionalist, but I think children live what they learn, and who among us has not benefited from the generous gift of male guidance?
I certainly do not advocate putting children in peril if a parent is dangerous or their influence detrimental to the child’s health and safety. But given the reality that child rearing, at its best, is a team sport, let’s develop a consensus to empower, support and when necessary, recruit dads to be there for children who need them.
I implore you to think of the life lessons learned — good or bad — from our fathers. Let’s honor them by emulating the good, overcoming the bad, and sending a signal to our children, in both word and action, that they are valued.
Jack Levine, founder, 4Generations Institute, Tallahassee