Occasionally, this column is about great men. Today, it’s about good men.
The older I have grown, the more I have appreciated the difference. Being great is about achievement, while being good is about integrity. In fact, being good is a greater achievement than being great, and one that a lot of great men do not attain.
What’s a good man like?
When I was 7 years old and panicked aboard a carnival ride, he jumped into the middle of the ride and hung on until the operator shut it off.
When my childhood allergies were getting the best of me, he had the gravel road in front of our house paved in hopes that it would reduce the airborne dust.
During the annual Cub Scout Pinewood Derby, he helped me build the cars that placed third one year and second the next. I still have the cars.
When I waited too late and couldn’t find a date to my junior prom, he sat on the side of my bed and had an hour-long discussion with me about economics in order to take my mind off my teenaged insecurities.
In fact, most of my childhood memories involving my dad did not occur on days that were carved out of the calendar or because he “made time” for me. They happened because he was there in the home every day making the sacrifices dads make.
Father’s Day is perhaps America’s worst-named holiday. It should be Dad’s Day. Being a father requires a brief biological act of which almost all great men are capable. Being a dad takes a lifetime commitment that only a good man can fulfill.
Unfortunately, it’s a commitment that is being redefined, and not in a good way. According to Child Trends, a Washington, D.C.-based research group, the percentage of children living with two married parents has fallen from 85 percent in 1969, the year I was born, to 65 percent in 2009.
If the present trends continue, that number will keep falling. In 1940, 4 percent of all births were to unmarried mothers. In 2009, it was 41 percent of American births and 45 percent of births in Arkansas. More than half of all births to mothers under age 30 occurred outside the context of marriage – 53 percent nationally and 52 percent in Arkansas.
In more than half the cases of unwed parenthood, the mother and father were living together, but, statistically, that knot is tied more loosely than the one tied at the wedding altar.
This breakdown in the two-parent family is not a good thing. In fact, it may be the worst thing – worse even than the $16 trillion national debt I am always blah-blah-blahing about.
The importance of fathers has been shown so conclusively that it’s hardly worth mentioning. According to Child Trends, children living in a single-parent household in 2007 were five times as likely to live in poverty as a child living in a home with two married parents – 42.9 percent versus 8.5 percent. Growing up in poverty is associated with many negative outcomes, including government dependency. According to the National Fatherhood Initiative, fatherless children are twice as likely to drop out of school, and girls who grow up without fathers are seven times more likely to become pregnant as teens.
This column is stepping on a lot of toes, so let’s be clear: Life isn’t perfect, and neither are people. There are many, many single parents and divorced couples who do a better job of raising children than parents who stay together until death thankfully do them part. We don’t want to return to the days when single mothers were shunned.
Still, while we all fail to live up to our ideals, that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t have them. It’s concerning that a lot of people get married, have children and then get divorced. What’s more concerning is that a lot of people apparently no longer think it’s important to even try the marriage part – at least, not try it first.
Fathers, for the time being, are still necessary. After that, dads are invaluable, despite society’s changing values. So happy Father’s Day to all those males who qualify, but happy Dad’s Day to those good men who have earned that title by being involved in their children’s lives – especially the good man who raised me.
Steve Brawner is a Bryant journalist whose blog, Independent Arkansas, is linked at Arkansasnews.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.