One glance around a crowded mall, a church congregation or a busy airport will prove that fathers come in all shapes, sizes, moods, colors and income levels, not to mention many ages. Therefore, today’s congratulatory editorial addresses a target-rich environment: 70.1 million American fathers, according to Census Bureau News.Stereotyping this group by any means other than their possession of progeny would be a fool’s errand. In fact, the deep thinker who over-analyzes Father’s Day might even ask this strange question: If being a father is so special on this particular day, shouldn’t the ultimate objects of our affection be our grandfathers, those who boast the added distinction of being the fathers of our fathers?
See how confusing this can get? Better to keep it simple. So here’s a tip of The Columbian’s hat to fathers, and especially to those who value their paternal role more than their jobs, their friends, their hobbies or even their remote controls. (On that last one, we’ll concede that today allows fathers expanded access to channel changers.)
When praising fathers, the best way to keep it simple is to focus on facts and eschew assumptions. For example, it would be a mistake to assume that Father’s Day is rooted deeply in our nation’s history. To the contrary, it wasn’t until 1966 that President Lyndon Johnson designated the third Sunday in June as Father’s Day. And it wasn’t until 1972 that President Richard Nixon signed the law that made it permanent. (That LBJ-Nixon reference reminds us to be careful about assigning political affiliation to any one father or collection of fathers. Obviously, this is a bipartisan brotherhood.)
Nostalgic traditionalists yearn to categorize fathers using time-worn standards. That, too, is a mistake. Sorry, fans of “Father Knows Best,” but of those 70.1 million American fathers, only 24.7 million belonged to married-couple families with children younger than 18, as of 2011.
And with apologies to those who still believe Ozzie and Harriet wrote the book on fatherhood, 1.7 million American fathers last year were single. Among that group, about 45 percent were divorced, 31 percent were never married, 19 percent were separated and 5 percent were widowed.
It’s not that all of the conventional descriptions of dads are obsolete. Oh, no. In fact, America has 15,734 hardware stores and 21,628 sporting goods stores serve the long-standing interests of fathers.
But times change, and so do fathers. Ward and June Cleaver would be shocked — shocked! — to learn that America now has 176,000 stay-at-home dads, married guys with children younger than 15 who have not worked outside the home for at least one year so they can take care of the family (including about 332,000 children) while their wives work outside the home. Take a bow, fellas!
And despite the punctilious messages dispatched by TV sitcoms of the 1950s, not all fathers adhere to the best financial interests of their children. American custodial mothers were due $31.7 billion in child support in 2009, but they received only $19.5 billion. Only 42 percent of custodial mothers received all the child support they were due.
None of these statistics, however, mean much to the child — young or grown — of a father. All that counts is Dad … or Pops … Pa … Pappy, he’s still your one and only. Maybe he’s no longer living. Thank him anyway. Maybe he’s over there dozing on the recliner. For now, leave the guy alone. A little later, wake him up with a hug. Maybe even a fresh set of AAA’s for the remote.