“He was a bully and a coward,” Tom Cruise recently told Parade Magazine, talking about his own father. “He was the kind of person where, if something goes wrong, they kick. It was a great lesson in my life – how he’d lull you in, make you feel safe and then, bang!”
“For me it was like, ‘There’s something wrong with this guy,’” said the famous actor, then drawing the “life lesson” most children with father problems draw: “Don’t trust him.”
I sympathize with Tom Cruise more than I can say, although my distrust problem was not rooted in an abusive father but in my parents’ divorce. I spent three difficult years in a boarding school for “emotionally troubled youngsters,” although who knows, Pleasantville Cottage School may have actually saved my life, giving me the stability my mother hoped for until she remarried (she left my father when I was 5). Yet, being separated from my parents was unbearable, and I remember running away from school regularly, trying to get back to New York City where they both lived. I was 8 years old.
It is hard for many adults to remember the agony of their childhoods, but for those of us who do remember, it digs deep – “distrust” is a mild word. I’m sure I haven’t yet fully recovered from those feelings. Let’s face it: The anger that we inherit from suffering the sins of our parents does not go away easily.
And yet, there is something about an abusive or uncaring father that digs particularly deep when you hear about it. I think it’s because ultimately we need our fathers to be our protectors. When they are not, and especially when they themselves are abusive, we can easily grow to hate them.
From that moment, life gets very painful, and very complicated – because the problem doesn’t stop with our fathers.
A friend of mine tells a sad story about the first time she realized the extent of the father problem among young people. She used to work with troubled teenagers, and one Saturday morning she invited a local pastor to speak to the kids. The moment he arrived she noticed an abrupt change in their attitude. Here was a perfectly nice man who was funny, entertaining, interested in children, and was giving freely of his time to be of some help. And yet, the normally outgoing teens suddenly grew sullen and silent, not shy, but actually downright hostile. Hate is not too strong a word to use.
As she described it to me, she asked the children later what happened – why had they acted like that? It turned out that none of these kids had had positive experiences with their fathers, or with the “other men” in their mothers’ lives. They quickly transferred their contempt for the men they had known onto this innocent man.
This simple transference is at the heart of a complex national problem that is so politically deadly we’d all be lying awake in fear at night if only we understood the threat to our common future. The horror stories of parental violence, sexual abuse, addiction and overt psychological abuse are seemingly endless. Increasingly, celebrities like Tom Cruise are speaking out, bringing attention to the problem. Increasingly, we know details about the pure hell nearly a million seriously abused children endure every year. And that’s only based on the CDC’s definition of abuse. Kids have a higher standard of judgment – for example, I didn’t see divorce on that CDC list.
Psychologists now know that divorce also has shocking effects on children, causing deep traumas – from fear of loss and loneliness to fear of conflict and betrayal – which typically can last most of a lifetime. And divorce affects millions upon millions of Americans.
So add to the CDC “hardcore abuse” numbers the larger math of soft abuse. Add the number of divorces, add the number of frightened children left home alone without mothers, and don’t forget the out-of-wedlock births when father is just a “boyfriend.” Or what about children who have no fathers at all, or whose fathers are in jail, or kids who live with a bullying dad and a passive mom (or the reverse), or those who just have quietly cold, disinterested parents – the list goes on and on, and each one is capable of making the world a very scary place for kids, no matter how normal or even privileged the family looks from the outside. These “soft abuse” children can easily end up hating their fathers, too – whether their fathers were directly responsible or not – because the child only knows the bottom line: “Daddy didn’t love me enough to keep me safe.” And so we fall to “father hate” – which quickly translates into hating authority. That’s when the real trouble begins, both personal and political.
Father hate is a poison that can eventually undermine any society. It is already happening here in America, one child at a time. It doesn’t always show up in obvious statistics for reasons I’ll explain, although the growth of gangs in America is a useful indicator.
A quick dose of reality for Americans who don’t know: Fox News estimates that there may be as many as 2 million gang members in America. Government statistics (900,000 gangsters) are admittedly unreliable because most local officials are reluctant to tell the truth about their problem.
“Gang crime is going through the roof in this country,” one expert told Fox’s Bill O’Reilly recently. “You have parts of the country, the rural south, that has never seen gangs before, and now all of a sudden they’ve got kids hacking each other’s hands off with machetes. …”
Generally, however, father hatred is less about violent action than about subversive, cynical attitudes. In the extreme, it’s a raw fury that schools like Pleasantville deal with all the time. But more commonly it’s an all-pervasive anger, a private and growing frustration with authority that can penetrate everything in our lives from our sense of self-worth to our personal relationships to even our political attitudes.
As I said, it gets complicated.
But the basic principle is simple – raw rebellion. If you are worried that a million or two young males have joined gangs, then that’s a start to understanding this issue. If it bothers you that young girls are also joining gangs, and are increasingly resorting to a more vicious violence than boys, then you are more aware than most citizens of what’s happening.
But now consider the larger influence of the “gang culture” represented on MTV and other similar media outlets, including radio in the major cities. Rap is the No. 1 choice among youth of all demographics. This isn’t just attitude; it becomes a thought process – an anti-social worldview. Consider the impact their hate-filled lyrics are having on millions of American kids who may not join gangs, but identify intensely with the anger because of their own troubled, distrusting lives.
Their instinctive sympathy for gang culture – and even outright admiration of it – is the scarier dimension of all this. By one law enforcement report, 20 percent of American teenagers have an interest in or monitor gang activity. Not surprising really; after all, the “authentic” victim status of the gangster movement appeals to disaffected boys who also want to stick it to the man. Add to that the sex-drenched angry rap songs, the growing street presence of gangs (which comes across as powerful and masculine), and the sympathetic respect “gangsta” culture gets from the equally anti-authority pop culture – from music to fashion to political pundits to late night comics – and it’s very easy to understand that troubled kids might identify more with rebellion than with their own parents or teachers. Positive authority figures are continually mocked by the multi-billion dollar MTV/gangster culture. But it doesn’t stop there.
Any normal culture encourages what is good in society and discourages what is bad. However, right now we’ve got just the opposite – an overtly destructive culture that increasingly loves what is bad and hates what is good (or at least can’t distinguish one from the other). And parental authority, which many cultural elites see as a form of tyranny – based on childhood experience no doubt – is high on its hit list. You could call it an agenda, but again, it’s really more of an attitude.
“Often there’s a kind of official and systematic ‘rebelliousness’ that’s reflected in media products pitched at kids,” NYU professor Mark Crispin-Miller told PBS in the Frontline documentary, “The Merchants of Cool.”
“It’s part of the official rock video worldview. It’s part of the official advertising worldview that your parents are creeps, teachers are nerds and idiots, authority figures are laughable.”
If you aren’t shocked by this, read it again, because let’s face it, the culture has been mocking authority for so long we’ve gotten used to it – even when it’s outright propaganda aimed at our teenagers. But what if even younger children are targeted with this same subversive message? Would it bother us then?
The Washington Post recently exposed how the media marketers go after the “tweens,” defined as children between ages 9 and 14 – all 26 million of them!
First understand the incredible access the media has to these children.
“The average American tween lives in a world of electronic opulence, inside his or her own media bubble,” reports the Post. “According to a recent survey by Nickelodeon, 77 percent of 9- to 14-year-olds have TVs in their bedrooms, with about half this group enjoying cable or satellite access. Some 59 percent have video-game systems, 49 percent have a DVD player and 22 percent have computers connected to the Internet.”
Now for the punch: What do you think these media entities are teaching your middle school children about you? Listen to one of the most successful producers of “tween” cable TV movies, Disney director Dan Schneider, explain his approach:
“What I try to do is create a world where the kids are in charge,” says Schneider. “Real kids are always being told what to do. Parents and teachers run things and kids are subject to their rules and whims.”
Schneider’s use of the word “whim” is revealing. That’s how anti-authority cultural elites see America’s parents; father doesn’t “know best” anymore – he rules by whim. But on television targeted at tweens, directors make sure that kids get “revenge.”
“The adults are [portrayed as] silly and buffoonish,” Schneider tells the Post, “because it’s fun [for children] to see someone making fun of authority.”
Remember, “Honor thy father and thy mother that thy days may be long”? Remember Pinocchio and the fox? It is frightening to watch the multi-billion dollar media culture target with laser-like accuracy one of the core underpinnings of society – parental authority. And if we don’t think this wreaks havoc with our children – whether at home, in school or at church – that’s only because we’ve forgotten so much about the true nature of authority and its powerful role in all our relationships – including our relationship with our own country.
Resenting authority is a curse that lasts a lifetime, because ultimately it’s about our identity, how we express ourselves. After all, if you hate authority, how can you be an authority? It has to do with who we are as children, as adults, as parents, as neighbors, as employees and, of course, as citizens.
And yet, thanks to rampant father-abuse problems out there, including soft abuse, and because of the constant barrage of father-hating propaganda kids get in the TV media (including anti-male advertising), children get drawn into rebelling against civilized norms. They increasingly feel like victims, as though they have a right to be angry with their fathers (and authority in general). No wonder the anti-establishment “in-your-face” gang culture starts to seem appealing to kids (not to mention the anti-establishment politics they get when they go to college).
It’s not that these kids will actually join gangs. Obviously, most of them won’t. The question is, where is their cultural loyalty? That’s the key. Are they acting more and more like strangers in our homes? Are they taking a bad attitude to school or church? Is your teenager’s inner thought life anything that would make you proud? Or are they increasingly contemptuous of your views on life?
Is it just a phase, or will millions of young people end up like so many of the baby boomers, trapped in a cultural time warp, still living out their angry, anti-authority youth. We anti-war boomers thought our movement was about “peace and love.” That was a lie. We judged our fathers harshly (many of them were war vets with traumas of their own), we mocked their “establishment” beliefs and dismissed their sacrifices, and we’re still trying to get back what we lost as a result – our honor.
Sure our World War II generation parents had their faults, but who were we to cry hypocrite? You can imagine the problems this caused us later in life – afraid of our own shadow when it comes to expressing authority. And now a new generation of media liars is walking our children down the same self-destructive path.
The Bible has an interesting phrase to describe social breakdown: “Love will grow cold.” That’s a great way to describe the rise of “father hate” over the last several decades in America because the resulting cynicism continually blocks out opportunities to love at all levels of society. It affects the way we treat each other, from our spouses at home to our employers at work, and even including that guy in the car in front of us who “forgot to signal.” No joke. The anger just grows and grows.
A new study funded by the National Institute of Mental Health estimates the number of people with “rage” disorder to be up to 16 million Americans – people capable of flying off the handle under one kind of stress or another. And while they say that Intermittent Explosive Disorder (its official name) involves deficiencies of serotonin (a mood regulator), it can hardly be argued that the radical changes in our national/political mood are serotonin-related. Something much bigger is going on under the national radar screen.
Despite the endless partisan debate, there doesn’t seem to be much grasp on what’s happening to American politics. Why all the hate? Why the constant accusations and pervasive sense of suspicion? Is the anger really about our policy differences? Or is there something more personal going on? Even experienced Washington pundits seem incapable of digging beneath the surface of things, where the real battle is being waged.
Some years ago, my wife observed that one of the greatest problems in modern America is self-loathing. We both had troubled childhoods, and I immediately sensed she was right, although I wasn’t sure of the root cause back then. Now I’m sure. Father-hate is the cause – which indirectly includes mom, since she picked him. Of course, it doesn’t necessarily start out as visceral hate, but more often as simple distrust, a rejection of our father’s authority due to his flaws. In other words, we literally negate our fathers (and in the process we also negate God by breaking His Commandment to respect our fathers and mothers, despite their sins). We do this at our own peril.
At first, rejecting flawed parental authority feels like freedom – a new chance at life. It feels like we’ve removed an infected appendix and that we’re on our way back to health. But in truth we’ve cut out a vital organ – our heart, our capacity to love fully, openly and with complete trust – and to be loved that way as well. Dishonoring our father is about hating life and about hating ourselves, because how can you hate the father whose seed created you without somehow associating that hate with the creation itself – you!
This father-hate – an all-pervasive cynicism and sense of despair – rarely gets any public attention because contempt for authority (the telltale sign) isn’t commonly recognized as a serious problem. When was the last time you even saw the evening news cover the issue of anti-authority attitudes? (Except possibly as a good thing, when whistleblowers leak secrets to the press.) Yet, it has a powerful negative impact on all we do. We find ourselves undermining our employers without really understanding why, or refusing to work at all if it means submitting to someone’s leadership, or resenting our parents for the chores they give us, or getting angry with friends when they won’t do what we want. In fact, life itself becomes pretty annoying when things don’t go our way.
When times are easy, this negative view of life is not so noticeable (except in the media/culture), but when trouble comes – during stressful economic times or war, for example – many of us act badly. We start assuming the worst about each other – with no evidence – and especially about those in authority over us. Conspiracy theories abound (ancient or otherwise). We fear being lied to or diabolically “controlled” – again without any serious evidence – and we sympathize with others who share our fears. In our current, continually overheated political environment, people seem ready to believe almost anything negative about federal, state and local leaders. Why? Because the trust wasn’t there to begin with!
Of course, at one time or another we’ve all distrusted authority (rightly or wrongly), but this is different. As a Democrat, I can say that my party has been infected by this poisonous contempt for authority since Vietnam. However, it’s gotten much worse. It’s almost like we can’t imagine any such thing as good authority – unless it’s us. And even then we’re not so sure.
We feel habitually “disenfranchised” and “misled,” and although we struggle over one “civil rights” issue or another, ultimately it’s not about rights. It’s about rage. Demagogues in our party take advantage of this, and thus what passes for political debate these days is so totally emotionalized that it looks more like a custody battle. And since millions of us know what that’s about, whether as children or as adults, the current political environment is a painful experience.
Clearly, my party’s leadership seems to be increasingly sympathetic to “outraged” politicians, whose campaigns seem like one long accusation, as if Republicans have intentionally done some truly horrible wrong to us. Why? Because for many father-haters on the political left, it actually feels that way. This is a frightening development in a free society, which depends on two main parties having genuine respect for each other – loyal opposition, as it used to be called. Now it truly looks more like an ugly divorce. And that’s what’s in our future if we don’t wake up soon to the errors of 20th century feminist politics with its ignorant contempt for the traditional father-led family.
Ironically, that century began with “flapper era” heiress Abby Rockefeller (daughter of John D. Rockefeller Jr.) refusing the traditional marriage vow to “obey” her husband, a real hot button for women with trust issues because to them the word “obey” suggests dictatorship. (Remember, for people with such problems, authority represents a bullying power – I have one friend who told me that she has trouble even being in a room with someone in professional authority over her.)
Soon, the whole Episcopal Church caved in to this feminist pressure, a symbolic moment in that century. But common sense, and many decades of trouble, should make it clear that having proper fatherly authority in the home is the key to empowering our children. Yes, it involves an authority struggle between mothers and fathers. There’s nothing wrong with that, as long as it’s respectful. In fact, as you will see, the struggle between those two opposing responsibilities is the very essence of parenting. It’s a “loyal opposition” relationship just like the one we need in Washington, D.C., which also depends on respect for authority to work (voting authority). When a decision is finally made it must be honored for the relationship itself to be honored. Sadly, we’ve lost that in many of our homes, and more obviously in the nation’s capital.
It is impossible for America’s political parties to regain the mutual respect (and voter interest) so essential to our system of government without relearning what it means to honor authority – not an easy thing to do in a culture that has been disrespecting authority for about as long as most of us can remember. So bear with me.
First of all, nothing truly functions in life without authority – because there are always opposing responsibilities, and decisions must be made. It explains the workings of the military, the government, business, church and family. Ideally, it is fluid, like the free market. Yet authority functions in such a fine-tuned manner that it’s not always clear to the outside observer what is happening, and why things are getting done so smoothly. It is the American way of life – or at least it was for most of our history.
I know that the very mention of the word “authority” will for some readers – especially those with troubled childhoods like mine – conjure up negative images. Proper authority is the exact opposite of the cultural stereotypes. It is not about dictatorship or denying power – it is completely about positive “empowerment.” So here’s an example to help us work past the typical media images of loveless authority that we’ve grown to accept.
Imagine a high-powered, big-city surgeon who decides she wants to take a long weekend and do something really different. She hires a hunter/guide to take her down river and into the deep woods so she can have a true hiking experience without the stress of being on her own. Ask yourself, who is the authority on this trip? Yes, the doctor is paying the bills, and yes, she’s a highly educated and skilled surgeon – but common sense still tells you that the guide is in charge, because he’s got the experience. He’s the one who knows the woods – that’s why she hired him. So logically, he’s the “authority” during this weekend getaway.
Now imagine that on the second day, as they walk along in the woods, they come across some young people in a panic because a girl in their group has taken a severe fall. The hunter knows first aid and can probably handle the situation fairly well, but is he in charge? No. Obviously, the authority relationship shifts immediately. The manly, experienced hunter becomes an assistant to the doctor, responding quickly to her orders and helping her in whatever way he can with the pressing needs of the moment. Not only doesn’t he second-guess her decisions, he obeys them instantly. This is an honorable man. This is a man who respects authority – and thus has no problem being leader or follower. The doctor is the same kind of person.
Once the doctor has done what she can for the injured girl, the guide is the one better able to get the girl to a clear area where she can be picked up and flown to the nearest hospital. He knows how to make a litter and how to negotiate the rough terrain so as not to further injure the patient. Meanwhile, the doctor knows better how to watch for specific danger signs in the patient’s condition and what to do with the few medical supplies they have. Unless an outside observer of this relationship understands each person’s skill and responsibility, it will be hard to really understand who is in charge.
Leaders and followers need each other. They are the two essential dynamics of social interaction. They are crucial to any team. Like the doctor and the hunter, leaders and followers work together, sometimes shifting responsibility according to certain needs. The hunter/guide is the ultimate leader in this case because he’s responsible for the safety of all; he knows the woods, he knows the dangerous places, and he knows the way out. But he also knows when to let the “follower” lead, as any good authority does. The doctor also understands this relationship. She chose the guide and willingly accepted his leadership. It’s a kind of marriage.
The two negotiate their different responsibilities easily, because they both respect the natural authority of the other’s skills and experience – and the need for final authority in effective decision-making. (This relationship lies at the heart of Western Culture because it creates a strong family and strong, independent children – who have learned to respect authority and therefore to accept their own.)
A father and mother who respect each other’s proper authority will function comfortably in this same manner, once the two understand their responsibilities as clearly as the doctor and her guide do. That’s the whole reason for marriage vows, the clarity that creates real commitment. Family problems (and the resulting societal problems) develop when husbands and wives do not recognize each other’s authority. It’s that simple.
Loyal opposition is one of the key principles of traditional marriage because it allows for freedom of expression. It also provides the balance in parenting necessary because boys and girls are so different, and because they both need radically different kinds of love and guidance depending on their ages (and even on their moods). There is a natural tug that goes on between a mother and a father, which keeps the child safe in between them. And remember, healthy children make healthy adults – and responsible citizens.
Here’s a real-life example that was one of the most beautiful “loyal opposition” parenting situations I’ve witnessed – and it didn’t even involve parents!
I will never forget seeing some uncles at a picnic confront their 9-year-old nephew because he was gravely misbehaving and his parents were not there yet. These uncles sat the boy down and surrounding him, giving him a stern talk about his behavior and what they expected of him. Now here was the interesting development: One of the boy’s aunts approached quickly and hovered nearby, keeping a respectful distance so as not to interfere with the manly disciplining of the male child, but still guarding against the men going too far. And right she was to do that. After all, 9 years old is a borderline age, and too much manly rebuking could easily traumatize him. (Men can spoil children too; they just do it differently.) Now and then, the aunt would quietly caution the uncles not to go too far. The men knew she was there, and they respected her respectful presence. Be sure, if the uncles had gone too far, this woman would have gently jumped in and stopped it – and they would have let her. She knew her role, which they honored. They knew their role, which she honored. It was a beautiful balance between mercy and justice. And consequently the child was loved in the way all children should be loved.
Like the hunter/doctor example, this demonstrates the balancing act that goes on between men and women. They are in opposition because of their different skills, instincts and responsibilities, but they are on the same team with the same end goal – to raise healthy and happy children. That opposition only works when there is respect for authority; otherwise the two parents war over the child instead of guarding over him. Clearly, the mother’s role is dominant early on and a father’s role is dominant as the child gets older, but they are not equal in their responsibilities, as I will show you. Fathers are not different versions of mothers. They are almost entirely different beings. And there’s the miracle.
It isn’t hard to teach this concept of authority balancing – although our anti-authority liberal schools would resist it. I’ve talked to many students over the years, and even the younger ones have no trouble understanding the essential partnership between leaders and followers once it is explained to them.
Certainly, any teenager can grasp that if students are building a school float and no one wants to lead, nothing will get done. No decisions get made without at least a facilitator. However, when asked about the reverse situation, the secret dawns on them – that if no one wants to follow and everyone wants to lead, the end result is the same. They come to realize that not only is “follower” not a dirty word (as the anti-authority culture teaches them), leaders and followers are necessary partners in achieving any team goal. The follower is essential because obviously nothing would get done without him.
There is no disgrace in proper submission; in fact there is great honor in it. A favorite saying at an all-boy Episcopal school I attended in New York City has never left me: “It takes a good follower to be a good leader.” They taught me that to respect authority was to respect myself – they were so right. Now if only our public schools understood that truth as it relates to men and women.
Learning to love Dad again
In truth, our real yearning for father lies at the heart of a mystery that embarrasses secularists but which nonetheless remains true (as science itself is finding): Men and women are not just different, we’re remarkably different, right down to the ways our brains function!
By ignoring this fact, our gender-hostile public schools have brought on an educational disaster, as reported on recently in Newsweek’s cover story, “The Trouble with Boys.” And no wonder there’s trouble: As one expert told Newsweek, we’ve been treating our boys “like defective girls.” Now imagine making the same mistake with our fathers – because that’s just what we’re doing.
If fathers represented nothing more than a “co-parent,” then absent fathers wouldn’t cause this national crisis. After all, we’d still have our mothers. But there’s the mystery. Parents are not interchangeable parts, as the gender-hostile feminists believe.
Actually, fathers represent something quite significant in society – something beyond normal parenting. They represent authority, pure and simple, and not just any authority, but ultimate authority as far as a child is concerned. Fathers are the standard we children yearn to meet. In a sense, they actually define our worth, at least in the early stages of our adult lives – and forever, if they love us. Even daughters, who happily learn womanhood at their mother’s side, still yearn for their father’s manly approval.
Remember, ideally an important part of the father’s tremendous authority is the mother’s love for him. The two together are an awesome and irresistible parental force. Children recognize and respect it – although movement feminists are threatened by this relationship (because there’s masculine authority involved). Even now, some readers can’t hear my singular praise of fatherhood without it sounding as a diminishment of mothers. That discomfort is precisely why fathers have been so ignored. People are afraid to stand up and state the obvious – men are different, and that means fathers are different!
It was interesting to note that in the Newsweek cover story about gender differences, one feminist expressed her fear that, “For some [educators], the trouble boys are having with schools becomes grounds for reinstituting traditional codes of manhood, including a return to the patriarchal family.”
Radical feminists have spent decades railing against the “codes of manhood” and especially against “the patriarchal family,” one of their primary targets. Until American women stand up and demand respect for their men – fathers, brothers, husbands and sons – the culture of contempt will continue. Just count how many TV ads you see in one hour making buffoons of fathers – usually for products pitched at women – and imagine the impact those ads have on your children. We need to turn it around. Younger generations of Americans must come to understand the true nature of the traditional family and that without it society dies. We’re watching that happen now in Europe.
In closing, my favorite example of the “patriarchal family” involves a particularly touching true story I’ve talked about for years on the radio and in print. John and Mary Scully were two newly wed attorneys, who just happened to be together at John’s San Francisco office when a mad gunman entered and starting shooting people. Mary was there that day to do some research at the firm’s law library, and the two quickly found each other and attempted to escape. Failing to find a way out of the office, they hid from the killer as he walked calmly through the law firm shooting people at close range. He found John and Mary huddled behind a desk in one of the offices, and as he raised his gun, John covered Mary with his body. Shots rang out but only one found Mary, wounding her in the arm. Several people died that day, including 28-year-old John Scully. But Mary Scully lived to marry again and have the children she and John never had.
It is fair to call John Scully a hero – I do – but we all know that in truth he simply did his duty; he did what is expected of men in a good society. We expect husbands to sacrifice themselves that way. And most significantly, we expect their wives to let them – to accept the sacrifice gracefully.
When the Titanic was sinking, the call for women and children to be rescued first was not simple ship policy. It was and is the very root thinking of Western Civilization. We accept it, even now in the 21st century. For example, none of us thinks Mary Scully was a coward, do we? If anything we honor her for choosing such a man as John. We all know that if Mary had been with a 10-year-old son that day, it would be she who made the sacrifice. And we’d honor John for choosing such a woman. This is the order of life and love. It is the order of the family. It is what makes the whole world go around. Children expect it – and recognize it as love when they see it. If they do not see this relationship in their parents, it confuses them, makes them feel insecure, distrusting and ultimately angry. They have expectations, for one simple reason that our government and its agencies can’t face. They are created beings.
Now consider the deeper mysteries of the patriarchy and why fathers and mothers are unequal equals: If it can be said that mothers provide our first baptism in this world, the grace of the womb on which we helplessly depend without question (and spiritually speaking, long after our birth and early nurturing), then fathers clearly stand for something stunningly different.
As an Episcopalian (and with respect to other denominations), let me carry the analogy forward based on my own church experience: Fathers represent a kind of confirmation (when a 13-year-old is formally blessed into the faith). Fathers observe our behavior. They challenge us, question us and finally, powerfully, they anoint us, and accept us as men and as women.
Of course, our fathers love us and accept us long before that, even when we’re in our mother’s womb. (What father doesn’t stand in silent awe of that reality?) But fathers have an official duty as well, to give us their blessing as young adults. Mom’s love is necessarily more unconditional, but dad provides our “second entry” into this challenging world, and without his recognition and approval we sense we are less than we need to be. He is the standard by which we measure ourselves – especially if we’re boys. For girls, he is the standard of love that allows them to know clearly how to treat – and be treated by – young men, and especially a husband. Of course, this “standard” is not always a good one.
Tragically, not all fathers understand their role or appreciate the power they have to bless their children – or in fact, to curse them. My heart goes out to men who suffered like Tom Cruise and the countless others who for one reason or another did not get the father blessing their hearts longed for in childhood. This is all the more tragic because the ever-present “gangster culture” doesn’t hesitate to “bless and anoint” every day – to say “I recognize you.” Consequently, our children, who are hungry for a completed identity, are saying, “yes” to the wrong family.
And that’s a choice they may never recover from – and neither may we.
Epilogue: Hope and healing
My years of local work with fathers, mothers and youth have made me optimistic that this nightmare of anti-father social decline can be turned around, from gangs to drugs to violent crime, from school dropouts to discipline problems, and even to political anger.
At Concerned Fathers Against Crime, we call it building up community hope, and there are lots of inspiring stories that relate to this 12-year effort by many folks in my town to stand up to crime. We seek to carry the vision forward by reviving parental authority in the community, and by connecting many caring, “authority-respecting” adults to local children in need of exactly that kind of support. Kids want to stand with us, but modern society gives them no real way to do it.
The C-FAC fathers and sons in our mostly rural county have been working with the local sheriff and city police for years and have achieved such success with our “eyes-and-ears” patrolling that we recently went to Washington, D.C., to meet with the Department of Homeland Security. Setting an example is the key to what we do – and the boys who ride with us like being part of the action. Law enforcement personnel sing our praises at every opportunity, both publicly and privately – our congressman calls us the cavalry riding to the rescue – but the thing we are most proud of is that “the family” system is now complete.
Two years ago we formed Concerned Mothers Alliance for Children, and now just recently Concerned Youth. The vision is simple: The kids have their own mission, working to keep the streets clear of litter and gang graffiti, but they can also work with the adults – boys on patrol with the dads and girls working with the moms to combat the rebellious, gangster culture that draws our children into destructive behavior. We are in the early stages, but it’s wonderful to watch prominent community members working with regular folks to heal the community by way of America’s traditional family wisdom – that fathers are fathers, mothers are mothers, and boys and girls naturally seek training for those wonderful roles in life.
I myself needed that so much in my young years, and am very grateful to my father and stepmother for putting me in Trinity School, that traditional all-boy day school in New York where in fact I actually began my journey back to respecting authority – and back to myself as a young man.
I still remember the moment in eighth grade when I understood that by respecting leadership authority I accepted that role myself – that it does in fact take a good follower to be a good leader. And although there were some years of rebellion, that basic truth never left me and eventually saved me from the authority-hating culture that, among other things, hates the American patriarchy with a true passion – fathers, mothers, children and all.
Of course, this is a call for healing and forgiveness. Despite my troubles, I love my mother and father and I’ve forgiven them for the mistakes of their youth, as I know they forgive me for my youthful rebellion. I also love my stepparents and am eternally grateful that they took me into their lives and loved me as they did. The real mystery of healing after all these years is that I regret nothing, as I told my parents. I am who I am, and I am grateful for the good in life.
I am sure Tom Cruise feels the same way. Happily, he also had the chance to heal, to talk things over and forgive his father who has now passed away. I hope the healing is complete. Cruise is an amazingly talented person, and I hope he’s overcome that sense of distrust, which so many of us experience. We are all in this together much more than we realize. Because although there are many ways to resent your father, the end result is the same – our own personhood is undermined, not to mention ultimately our country.
Millions of Americans have not had that chance to heal their family wounds; millions still carry around a deep resentment toward authority and ultimately toward life. I know the feeling very well. I also know that adults with normal childhoods have a hard time understanding all the anger in America today. It’s not really such a mystery. Try to imagine Tom Cruise’s childhood. Try to imagine the little boy I was at 8, saving up peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and sneaking out across a cornfield and walking into the night – all to reclaim my family many miles away – and you’ll have some idea of what we go through in our hearts. Yet, despite all the pain, children want nothing more than the love and approval of their parents. Kids just want to get back home.
After my parents’ custody battle, I also had the chance to heal my relationship with my father. Actually, it was a “chance” that he sought eagerly and made happen. I remember Dad playing catch with me when I was 14 – getting to know me – getting me to know him. I was trying out for the baseball team as a pitcher and wanted dad to admire the strength of my arm. So I threw harder and harder. To understand the moment, you need to know that my father was a musician, who later climbed to the pinnacle playing for the Metropolitan Opera in New York. He played the flute and his fingers were his livelihood. He even avoided using a hammer for fear of breaking a finger and not being able to work. And there he was, nearly 50 years old, crouched with a flimsy old-fashion catchers mitt, taking my fastball over and over. Watch this one, Dad!
Our dads, young and old, don’t tell us much about the stressful burdens they bear, but they still want us to love and honor them. It’s a relationship that we owe them, despite their sins, and one that’s required of us in order to keep our own honor – for we are sinners, too.
I am not a father myself, so perhaps someone like me should say this. In truth, America owes an apology to its fathers – that vital part of our being. It’s time (and well past time) to admit the mistakes of almost a century, and to bring the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the children back to the fathers.
Otherwise, our families and our great nation will pay a terrible price.