Father’s Day is Sunday and families across the nation will celebrate dads in a variety of ways. It will be a welcome event for many who couldn’t risk being with loved ones last year during the pandemic.
Somehow Mother’s Day always seems to get more attention than Father’s Day, and perhaps that’s to be expected; more kids have moms than dads active in their childhoods. One in four children grows up without a biological, step- or adoptive father in the home, according to the U.S. Census. The data also show that about 7 million fathers are altogether absent to their children.
We can’t begin to unravel the many reasons fathers aren’t living in homes with their children. But we know the lack of a male parent in the home is correlated to many impacts. As just a few examples, a child without a father in the home is more likely to commit a crime, more likely to go to prison, more likely to drop out of school and more likely to become obese than a child with a male parent in the home, according to the National Fatherhood Initiative.
Those impacts are difficult to disentangle from other factors impacting children’s well-being. And sometimes no dad is better than the dad life dealt you.
But for many American kids today, fathers play just as important a role as do mothers. And fatherhood roles are changing. More fathers than in the past are stay-at-home dads, caring for children while mothers support their families financially. About 17% of stay-at-home parents were dads in 2016, according to the Pew Research Center. And with about the same frequency as moms, dads today say that parenting is central to their identities, and they are much more likely to provide child care than they were 50 years ago.
One of us recalls watching a couple we’ll call Mark and Pat act as surrogate parents to the child of friends. They were the backup babysitters and inspired creativity directors who gladly gave up their weekends to teach the little boy pumpkin-carving and T-shirt tie-dying, and invented innumerable other fun activities for an “only” child. Adults who got to be part of the fun were awed by Mark and Pat, who seemed equally skilled at dealing with the little guy in his good and bad moments, cajoling him out of tears and firmly setting necessary boundaries.
A few years later, Mark and Pat became foster parents to an adolescent boy who’d grown up in a troubled household. Under their patient guidance, he came out of his abused shell and began to flourish in school. Eventually, they were able to adopt him. We last saw them at a neighborhood pool, the boy squealed with delight as Mark and Pat towed his tube around its perimeter, demonstrated handstands on the pool bottom and coached him in the backstroke.
This week, the U.S. Supreme Court decided it was OK for Catholic Social Services of Philadelphia to refuse to consider same-sex couples for a foster parent program based on religious grounds. The ruling, though narrow, is nonetheless reprehensible.
Mark and Pat – a gay couple together almost 30 years – couldn’t have qualified to foster or adopt through Philadelphia’s Catholic Social Services. But the child they are raising already knows that his life is vastly better than it was before. Without them, he might never have experienced a stable, healthy, loving home.
And he’s got not just one, but two dads.
Happy Father’s Day to Mark and Pat, and to all the other nontraditional and traditional dads out there. Today, thank goodness, you get to choose the roles you will play in your children’s upbringing. Do it with love and laughter and you can’t fail.