Today is Fathers Day
And if we are honest most of us think that it is a bit of a waste of time.
Dads all over the country will be waking up to a new pair of socks and a card telling them what a wonderful father they are.
And the truth is...men are struggling, and young men in particular are struggling. All you need to do is look at suicide levels among young men to see how bad things are. Death by suicide is one of the highest killers among men.
And look at levels of responsibility, or lack of responsibility, when it comes to parenthood; look at how many single mums there are out there?
Seriously look at the range of father’s days cards there are, not all that many...and compare them with the huge range of Mother’s day cards that you get. There is no comparison.
And the reason that there are so many Mother’s Day cards and so few Father’s Day cards is the lack of fathers that hang around.
So here is what I want to do.
I want to look at some realism.
I want to suggest a reason why things are so bad. And I want to give a practical idea.
And for all you mothers out there, I want you to listen because you need to help men. Because when we duff it up, you suffer as well.
So first off all some realism.
There was no golden age.
I think one of the reasons that young men often don’t bother with fatherhood is that they think they are always the looser anyway. They could never live up to past generations.
I think a lot of us men think that at some time in the past men were better at being fathers. I don't think so. There may have been more fathers about, but that might have been because marriage was more normal and divorce was frowned upon. But just because men were about, doesn't mean they were better fathers.
In fact I went through the Bible trying to find good examples of fatherhood. And to be honest I struggled.
Maybe because there is no superhero father that gets it right.
Truth is, fatherhood, parenthood, is messy
Like today's reading.
This is a typical biblical family.
You have the mum and dad and two kids.
And Isaac is getting to the time of his life when he has to pass on the responsibility to the next generation. He does that by giving the blessings of leadership to the eldest son.
And suddenly this becomes a power grab.
As Isaac sends out his eldest son Esau to get some meat, the youngest son Jacob sneaks in and pretends to be his brother so that he can get the blessings.
This he does with his mother’s blessings because she isn't happy with the way Esau’s wives have been treating her.
It ends up with Isaac being lied to by his wife and his youngest son. That he and his eldest son have feelings of betrayal. Jacob ends up having to run away from the family home because his brother wants to kill him.
Now let’s be honest.
The reason that this all happened is because this family had been dysfunctional for years.
The tensions between the two brothers have been lifelong. Not helped with the fact that it was obvious that the father favoured Esau and the mother favoured Jacob.
So let’s not get hung up with the fact that supposedly things were better in the past and that we modern fathers have suddenly dropped the ball.
It is harder being a father today than it was in the past.
One reason is that society and expectations have changed.
My father had three children. He never saw any of them being born. Even if he had wanted to see them being born that wasn’t going to happen. He dropped mum off at the hospital and when she started to give birth he was sent home by the nurse and told to come back at visiting time, by which time it was all done and dusted. Even if my dad wanted to be there for the births he had no choice he was barred.
I likewise had three children. I was there for all of them being born. I had as little choice in that as my dad had. Even if I had decided I wanted the day off and have a snooze because one of us at least should get some sleep, that was never going to happen, I was EXPECTED to be there. I had to put up with all the abuse of Roseanna blaming me for all the pain she was going through. I had all the nurses stare at me with those, ‘If you loved this woman why would you put her through this?’ look.
My dad didn't need to put up with that.
Expectations have changed.
But what is worse. Is that for many men there is no example.
Let me explain this.
Before the industrial revolution a son followed in his father footsteps. So if the father was a carpenter, so was the son. If the father was a farmer so was the son, if the father was a doctor so was the son.
People lived in smaller communities and often they could live their whole lives and die within a few miles of the home they were brought up in.
That had the advantage that the father was a true example, for better or for worse, for the son. The son was often the apprentice of the father, so hours upon hours were spent together. As the father explained the skills of his trade he would explain all the ways he had got to where he was. The mistakes he had made and learnt from.
After the industrial revolution that effectively disappeared.
What developed was a system where the man disappeared for long periods of time.
This came shockingly back to me last year at about his time when my son struggled at university and tried to hide it. That wasn’t the worse bit.
The worse bit was finding out that he had been struggling for months and months and hadn't come to us for help.
And the reason he had done that was he felt shame.
Here was his dad ultra successful in his eyes. His dad had two degrees, not one. His dad went out to work and came back and everything was fine.
His dad was happily married with no financial worries and nothing seemed to faze him.
And the reason he had thought like that was that he hadn’t seen the struggles.
There is no place for a son to see the failures and struggles of the father.
In the old days the son would be an apprentice, they were always be going to be an apprentice, so from the very beginning they would be hanging around their dad under the care of their dad. They would see all the struggles, the failures and also (and more importantly) how to deal with them.
But now we deliberately and rightly keep children away from work.
Can you imagine going in for an operation on your heart and there are five year olds in the operating theatre?
Can you imagine a sheet metal worker welding away forty feet up a scaffold and his nine year old is up there with him learning the trade?
So a distance has been created between the seen and unseen father.
My son had never seen the struggles I had gone through, so he didn’t know how I had coped though them, had never learnt how to cope with downturns.
That has become just as hard with new fathers.
With a generation of single mums out there, the greatest curse that has given sons is that may they grow up wanting to be responsible fathers...but they don't know what to do?
They know they don't want to desert their children, they know they want to be there, but they don't know what a father does, because they have never seen one close up. Even if they had seen a bad example, at least they would have something to work on, but to see nothing at all...what are they supposed to do or not do?
And it dawned on me that this is just as hard for mothers now-a-days. We have the situation where because of higher costs of houses, higher costs of mortgages or rents, that both parents are out working. Then what example of parenthood do any of the children get?
My wife is a childminder, so I know how hard it is for parents to leave their children first thing in the morning, and then collect them round about tea time.
The moments in the day when the child is most active...that’s the moments my wife has them.
The time when they are laughing and crying and learning to talk.
The time when they are learning hand-eye coordination and how to pick up a spoon and they may even get some of the food in their own mouths.
The time when they are beginning to crawl, to climb up furniture and stand on their own feet, those first steps...that’s mainly when my wife has them.
The time when they are tired, the time when they are just about ready to get a bath and go to bed, that’s when the parents have them.
And what is worse...for some parents they don't even get to do the tired bit together.
Often because of the lack of suitable jobs parents end up doing shift work that means they hardly see each other let alone their children.
Most of the things a child learns is not taught, it is caught. It is picked up from the environment. They soak up what is going on around them. How to treat each others, how to talk to each other, how to behave when no one is looking, that is picked up by seeing and watching and copying. And it can’t be done if it isn't there.
They can’t see how mums and dads interact, if mums and dads are on different shift patterns and don’t talk to each other.
They can’t see how mums act if mums are not there, or how to be a dad if dads are not there.
So now the practical thing...do stuff together.
It's not rocket science, but it isn't easy either.
If you want to your son or daughter to know how a mother or father should be, then be a mother and a father...be there for them, do things with them...when you can.
I tried to make sure that when my children were young that I was always there for them at tea time. We would talk and argue.
If I could pick my children up from school I would.
If I could play with them then I would.
If I could walk up the glen with them then I would.
Saturdays were sacrosanct. It was usually the only day I could guarantee not working, so that was their day, we would go to cinemas, or down to the park or anything at all, as long as it was together.
I am not the perfect father, but no one is. And I try to show them my flaws, because it is easier for them to try themselves as they get to the age when they may be parents, to let them see that it is the trying that counts, never to give up.
And finally, to those of you who aren’t parents.
The same thing goes for faith.
One of the reasons we have generation after generation after generation of people deserting the church, is that they have never seen Christianity.
I listened to this seminar where this guy (Henry Cloud) was trying to get one of his mates to come to church and his mate was incredulous that he should even be asked. The reason he gave was, that he couldn't handle the guilt, that church is for prefect people and he knew he wasn't perfect. His life was hard enough without having to live with the guilt that he wasn't good enough.
And the reason he thought that was what church was about was all he saw was people who seemed to have everything in order, or maybe he saw people who were pretending that everything was in order.
As Christians we don’t need to be perfect, we aren't expected to be perfect...we are meant to be working our way through life with God helping us. And people need to see that. If they see us being imperfect, but getting through our struggles with God's help, then maybe they will see their lives don't need to be perfect either, but they too can get help from God, and who doesn’t want or need help?
Maybe being a father, or mother, and being a Christian, is basically the same thing, its being there for others, and being real when you’re with them.