The Role of Fathers in Shaping Lives: Lessons from Literature
Over the past few weeks, I have been captivated by two timeless masterpieces: John Steinbeck's East of Eden and Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird. These literary gems, brought to my attention by my high school nephew and son, have drawn me into worlds where the forces of good and evil collide. In East of Eden, the Trask and Hamilton families unknowingly reenact the biblical stories of Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel, exploring the delicate balance between free will and fate. And as you may recall from your own high school days, To Kill A Mockingbird is a poignant tale of a young girl's journey into adulthood, delving into themes of innocence, racism, and prejudice, as we witness how these opposing forces coexist within a single community and individual. The literature artfully weaves in the social and cultural challenges of the era, creating a rich tapestry of the times.
Just like the roots of a mighty tree, the stories of these classics plant lessons in your heart, sprouting and growing with each passing moment, until they demand your undivided attention. As my son teased out his book report, we enjoyed discussing the endless details of character, plot development, and contrasting themes throughout.
Despite the numerous differences between these two renowned classics, such as their respective settings in California and Alabama, one undeniable similarity that stood out was the significant portrayal of fathers in both narratives. In To Kill A Mockingbird, Atticus emerges as a formidable force shaping his children's lives. His unwavering presence serves as an anchor, consistently offering guidance and wisdom to teach his children important life lessons. He embodies the age-old adage that actions speak louder than words, remaining a steady and reliable figure in their lives. In East of Eden, we are introduced to Samuel, the vibrant and self-taught Irish patriarch of the Hamilton family. Filled with an infectious zest for life, Samuel leads his loved ones. Despite modest means, he garners the admiration and respect of the community through his impeccable character. Samuel forges a profound connection with Adam Trask, confronting him when his grief blinds him to the needs of his own sons, leaving them unnamed and neglected. Heightening the incredible gravitas of these loving and respectable fathers, the novels also present contrasting father figures. In East of Eden, Cyrus is depicted as a militant and excessively authoritarian figure. On the other hand, To Kill A Mockingbird introduces us to Robert Ewell, an immoral, addictive, and lawless father who not only abuses his own children but also mocks the local ordinances and takes advantage of government safety nets.
Both Atticus and Samuel are depicted as highly involved fathers, not only providing financial support for their families but also cultivating a thirst for knowledge, fostering a love for reading, and encouraging exploration.
Negative stereotypes about fathers are rampant in mainstream media today. In fact, one study found that in sitcoms today, dads come off looking more incompetent, immature, and self-absorbed. One of the most indestructible dad myths is that dads don’t contribute as much or aren’t as necessary as moms. Yet, nothing can be further from the truth. Fathers provide unique, important contributions to their families—contributions that should not be dismissed or devalued.
There is an overwhelming abundance of compelling evidence that illuminates the indisputable advantages of fathers actively engaging in the lives of their children (see below). It is important to acknowledge that this does not diminish or undermine the unique and powerful role that mothers play. Of course, fathers are not mothers, and they don't parent in the same way. Instead, they bring unique and invaluable contributions to their families, contributions that should never be underestimated or devalued.
My heart aches for those who have not been fortunate enough to experience the blessing and privilege of an active and present father figure in their lives or who have tragically lost their fathers at a tender age. Yet, I am encouraged by the work we do and that of many other fatherhood and family strengthening programs that are actively seeking to promote father engagement.
In 2024, how can we elevate the fathers in our families, neighborhoods and communities? Let's kick it off at home. From February 7th to 14th, we celebrate National Marriage Week, and of course, Valentine's Day reminds us to honor and cherish those we love. For those who are married and raising children, how can we uplift and empower our spouses in their important role as fathers? One way we can uplift and elevate our marriages is validating the influence we have over one one another and recognizing the value we bring to the table. In this case, the positive influence fathers can have.
Start by simply appreciating and respecting the contributions of the fathers in your midst. Do so frequently.
And if you are a father, you can aspire to do better---draw inspiration from the timeless classics mentioned above:
- Instill a love for reading by sharing stories with your children,
- Share the responsibilities and burdens of parenting,
- Have meaningful conversations with your kids,
- Actively engage in playtime,
- Be present in their lives,
- Provide guidance and discipline as needed,
- Embrace and embody your deeply rooted beliefs and values, allowing them to authentically reflect the character and spiritual journey you strive for
As these books also beautifully illustrate the profound influence of generations, I feel compelled to share with you an excerpt from Sarah Groves' poignant lyrics in her song, Generations:
Remind me of this with every decision
Generations will reap what I sow
I can pass on a curse or a blessing
To those I will never know