A Society Without Father

By Scott Keith

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Recently, I’ve been doing a fair bit of research on the subject of fatherhood. I’m interested in answering a couple of questions: 1) what makes a good father; and 2) what impact does a good father, or bad father for that matter, have on the lives of their children? As I survey our society, it seems that we live seemingly contentedly in a world without father; this will have long lasting implications on our children and our culture. As a part of my research, I looked to Alexander Mitscherlich’s, Society Without Father. Mitscherlich was a social psychologist in Post-World War II Germany. He saw in his society one in which the father was absent, and prophetically noted that America was the next society to abandon and marginalize father. Having said that, please note that nothing that I write for you today is original. The few insights that I share with you here are, on the whole, Mitscherlich’s insights as I have attempted to adapt them in a more easy-to-read format.

Father in our world is absent, first because he is gone all day at work, out of the sight of his children, and second because society marginalizes and mocks his role in the family. Now, it’s not that we can go back to a pre-industrial lifestyle, or even that anyone in our iPhone 6 world (by the way, I can’t wait for Thursday!) would want to, but some things in our past ought to be remembered. One of the important realities to remember, is that no matter what the mood in the home of the past might have been, the life of the parents, father included, took place before the eyes of the children. Further, what he contributed was physically and emotionally was seen as necessary. No important aspect of the adult life would have taken place outside of the children’s sight, or for that matter, would have been beyond the child’s range of experience. In our world, father leaves at 6am or 7am and returns at 5pm or 6pm. (This is increasingly true for mother as well, but I’ll let others comment on that.) The net result is that father, when he does make an appearance, is a striking figure. Further, if mother uses him as the heavy in a “wait till your father gets home” way, he is a terror-striking figure. Or, the modern father may choose to be a passive and invisible figure even at home. Our world seems to desire them to be that. Father doesn’t know best, but rather, mother must.

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Rivalry between father and his children, particularly sons, is natural. In the old world, these rivalries were sorted out non-verbally but directly by working together toward a goal that benefited the whole family. The son could build a fence with his father and in so doing show his own skill, learned from his father. They would compete, but in a way that was helpful to their relationship, not harmful. The competition would relieve the tension between father and son; the tension did not need expressing, it did not result in verbal or physical fighting; it took place in the accomplishing of a needed task, together.

Rather, in our modern world, father is separated from the family for most of the waking hours of a child’s day. The result is that, on the whole, children receive only father’s temperament and not his teaching.

There is little or no working alongside father to relieve tension; there is only the building of tension and confusion. His life does not occur before the eyes of his children, nor theirs in front of his. They do not see what he does, and he does not see what they are learning. The co-mingling of father as a whole person––temperament, mentor, teacher, provider, caregiver, friend––has been put aside. Father as temperament remains at the end of the day, but father in all other forms seems distant. At the risk of sounding sanctimonious, this is one of the primary reasons in my opinion to home-school children. The process of homeschooling usually requires father involved in some way in the teaching process. Father and mother must work together to cover the whole gambit of subjects and skills necessary in the educational process. Be it leaving work early or taking every other Friday to teach science, father usually needs to be more involved than not.

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Now, certainly more needs to be said, this, being a blog, is necessarily over-stated and over-simplified. But perhaps a few takeaways can be noted. One is; be more than temperament to your children. Do what you can to be all aspects of father. They need your teaching, your care, your deep instruction, your grace, your presence, your guidance, your mentorship; they need it all. Also, show them what you do at work and teach them about it. Don’t hide your work world from your children. Teach them to be proud and interested in the whole you. You are not two people; rather you are one person, their father. They want to know the whole you and they want to learn from you about that part of your life that you spend away from them 40-60 hours per week. Lastly, see your calling as a husband and most often resultantly your fatherhood as your primary earthly callings. What you do at work you do to support them, but without the total you as the father in their life what you do at work is of less value to them than you might think. Be more than the monetary and physical support to them; be their dad. We need to stop accepting a Society Without Father or with a distant father and start demanding a Society With Father! Please pray for me as I daily attempt to take my own advice, and I’ll do the same for you.

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