Who is teaching American boys how to be fathers? Is it a part of secondary school curricula? Do they observe their own fathers and make decisions about what is appropriate? Do they read research to determine approaches that are likely to be successful? Does their religion specify the role of fathers?
What if their father is absent? What if their father lost in a custody dispute? What if a sperm donor was involved? With the high divorce rate, the financial independence of many women, the decision to not marry the father, the instance of young males becoming fathers, fatherhood is a complex issue in American culture.
With societal norms changing, can we even define fatherhood in a way that would appeal to most Americans? If we can’t define it, can we measure it? Has the definition changed over time? What informs said definitions? Where is the guidebook, any guidebook, for fathers who feel that something is amiss? With whom do they converse when they feel uncomfortable in their role?
I was fortunate in having an excellent father in Caleb Bowling, who at four years old, was abandoned by his own father, John Bowling. My dad’s mother had died and John just put the children of that union out to pasture and moved on to begin yet another family. I indicated that my father was excellent, but do my three siblings feel the same way? Each child has a different relationship with his/her father, and that relationship is impacted by a host of factors: birth order, common interests, the position of the father in his work life, the father’s relationship with the mother, the father’s mental and physical health.
In 1914 when Kris Lee’s sister Darla was dying of an aggressive form of breast cancer, she said, “Kris, I want you to take care of my kids.”
Lee’s response was, “I’ll love ‘em like my own.”
Lee knew that he needed to talk with his wife as there would be issues. They were accustomed to having children in the house as they had five of their own. Both he and his wife worked and there was Social Security income for Darla’s two children, and she had set aside a fund for their education but they were concerned about Darla’s youngest, Daria, 8, and how their youngest, Kirstyn, would react to no longer being the youngest daughter. So there was a lot of talking with Kirstyn. The Lee’s son Kaden who was also 8 years old “buddied up with Daria to study together, do sports together.”
There was also the issue of religion. The Lee Family is Catholic, and Darla’s children were Methodist. Daria converted, but her bother Darien chose not to. Hill says, “As long as they believe, and even if they don’t, they’re still my kids. I don’t believe in forcing a particular religion, or any religion, in cases such as mine.”
Hill has some advice for fathers based on his own experiences:
• Each kid comes with his/her own quirks, and as a father I’m not always right.
• Be a good example, but be human. As a father, I can cry.
• Be loving, caring, always there to talk and support and know there will be arguing, bickering and the need for problem solving. Listening is most important.
• Pick and chose which events to attend, take turns, as with a large family, I can’t do it all. I take kids with me to my events, coaching, the YMCA.
Lee says, “As an African American, I know that in the larger African American community, there are a lot of fathers who aren’t in the home 24/7. This doesn’t mean they can’t be a part of their children’s lives. It comes back to communication, finding common ground, defining the ways in which they can be a part of their children’s lives- and carrying out those commitments.”
When I reminded Lee that he has several degrees, including a Bachelor’s degree in communication and two graduate degrees, he puts those degrees aside and says, “God gave me a big heart and the patience to take on challenges. My dad, Robert. E. Lee, who had an eighth grade education, was the best source of support for me with his gentle smile and words of wisdom. For fathers who don’t have the edge I had, there is help out there in the form of counselors, crisis-center personnel, and friends whom they trust and respect.”
In conclusion, I want to thank the Lee Family and congratulate Darla’s son Darien who recently graduated from Bowling Green State University and begins his graduate degree in counseling this fall at Wright State University. Way to go, Darien!