I’m Dr. Meg Meeker, pediatrician and co-host of the Family Talk radio and Internet program. Here we are almost halfway through 2015, and there are many exciting things happening at Family Talk! I am grateful to write you this month and share what I believe to be one of the most important goals that we have here: to champion fathers.
Several years ago, I wrote Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters because I wanted to tell stories of what great men do in the lives of their children. I wrote about how my own father not only gave me life but also shaped my character through everyday experiences. I also wrote about the observations I made of my husband teaching our own three daughters how to love God by serving His people in the United States and in South America. But mostly, I wrote about men who just love their kids—men who are good, hard-working guys trying to be the best fathers they know how to be. I wanted to encourage them because they, like my own father and husband, suffer from a strong sense that what they did and how they acted as fathers wasn’t good enough. And many fathers in my medical practice live with the belief that although they try their best, they always seem to fall short.
I understand this. All one needs to do is buy a movie ticket, turn on the television or go to a drug store to buy a Father’s Day card. We see messages everywhere that dads hog the channel changers, drink too much beer, get others to mow the lawn so they can sit in their reclining La-Z-Boy chairs, need clear instruction from sassy 10 year-olds regarding how to cook or to do menial tasks. You, good men, have become the target for those who love marketing stupidity. It’s no wonder that many of you feel badly about the role you play as fathers. I am sorry for this because women of my ilk have brought this on you. We women who grew up in the 1970s decided to not only compete with you, but also tried to beat you in all aspects of life. If you watch television, you are likely to believe that women won. Messages from Hollywood tell you that dads are no longer needed for anything really. We mothers run our households, earn money to pay bills, and raise good children; and since we are good at everything, we simply only need one thing from you— your chromosomes. We don’t need you to father our children, we just need you to help us get the whole pregnancy thing going, and then we’re on our way. We are fine and our children will be also.
This mentality found its roots in the later part of the 20th century, and sadly, it is still gaining steam. That’s why I write to you today. We, friends, can reverse this mentality, and I really don’t think that it will take as much money or energy as we think because Truth lies within each of us. And that Truth says: fathers matter. We at Family Talk are committed to standing against the forces that tell lies to parents and children that fathers are less important than mothers. I know that people respond positively and enthusiastically when we simply state truths about fathers because I have seen it. I have personally seen the swell of gratitude and excitement that erupts in men from all backgrounds when they are told who they are in their children’s eyes. I have received hundreds of letters from men around the world who have told me after reading my book that they “never knew” they were so important to their children. Declaring the simple truths regarding who fathers are to a nation in moral chaos is a breath of fresh air. (To most people, that is. Many women have dubbed me anti-woman for being pro-dad.)
During this month when we celebrate dads, I want to take the opportunity to share truth with every father. Think of this: God calls Himself Father. He doesn’t call Himself Mother. Therefore, you dads have honor bestowed upon you the moment your child is conceived. Honor—the real thing. You share a name with God. Indulge me if you will to share a passage from my book, Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters. This is not meant to be self-serving; rather I want every parent to know how desperately our children need their fathers. Then, we can be more effective in our support of them. Fathers must embrace the greatness of their roles, and we women must change the way we speak to them. We mothers after all, are the ones who teach our children how to treat their dads. Below is a portion of a chapter called You are the Most Important Man in Her Life:
Your daughter takes cues from you, her father, on everything from drug use, drinking, delinquency, smoking and having sex to self-esteem, moodiness, and seeking attention from teen boys.
When you are with her, whether you eat dinner and do homework together or even when you are present but don’t say much, the quality and stability of her life—and, you’ll find your own— improves measurably. Even if you think that the two of you operate on different planes, even if you worry that time with her shows no measurable results, even if you doubt that you are having a meaningful impact on her, the clinical fact is that you are giving your daughter the greatest of gifts. And you’re helping yourself, too—research shows that parenting may increase a man’s emotional growth and increase his feelings of value and significance.
Your daughter will view this time spent with you vastly differently than you do. Over the years, in erratic bursts and in simple ordinary life together, she will absorb your influence. She will watch every move you make. She might not understand why you are happy or angry, dishonest or affectionate, but you will be the most important man in her life, forever.
When she is twenty-five, she will mentally size up her boyfriend or husband against you. When she is thirty-five, the number of children she has will be affected by her life with you. The clothes she wears will reflect something about you. Even when she is seventy-five, how she faces her future will depend on some distant memory of time you spent together. Be it good or painful, the hours and years you spend with her—or don’t spend with her—change who she is.
Four years ago my father passed into God’s hands. He suffered from severe dementia. His disease broke my heart and his. When dementia was setting in, he would sit and cry for hours. He was a brilliant man who had done medical research and had his results published in numerous languages. More importantly, he was my dad. He loved his family with everything he had. And in spite of his faults, he did a tremendous job. No one showed him how to parent four children (his own parents were emotionally distant) but he did the best he could. And he did better than well enough.
Before his dementia began, I handed him Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters and said, “Dad, I want you to see something. I wrote a book about you.” His eyes welled up with tears and he almost looked shocked. His face said, “Me? A good dad?”
I went on to tell him how he changed me. Many years earlier, as a senior in college, I applied to medical schools and got a rejection letter from every school. I thought my life was over. Since the age of 16, I lived and breathed thinking about medical school. I planned no back-up option. I was staying at my parents’ home so I had the opportunity to talk with my mother about my disappointment. She comforted me and told me to try again. She made me good food and made me feel better.
I left one evening to go for a jog to clear my head. When I returned home, I went inside and heard my father talking to a friend on the phone in his study. This was odd, I thought, because my father was a quiet man and rarely talked on the phone. I decided to do what any nosy 21 year-old does, and I parked myself outside his study door and listened. I heard him say my name. I listened more carefully and then he said to his friend, “Yes, that’s right. My daughter, Meg, will be going to medical school in the next year or two.” His voice was firm and filled with resolve. I was stunned. What did he know that I didn’t know? Had he made phone calls on my behalf or paid off someone at a medical school?
Of course, he hadn’t. My father gave me a much greater gift. When I heard him state that I was going to medical school, I knew in that moment that I would go. As a young woman, I reasoned that if my father had that much confidence in me—in the face of the rejection letters—then I could do just about anything. Now, some 45 years later, I can still hear my father speaking that sentence because it changed who I became. But here’s the fascinating part—my father never remembered having that conversation. In the course of living our everyday lives, words that expressed my father’s beliefs changed the course of my life. And he didn’t even try to do that.
You are a son or daughter so you know exactly what I am talking about. The words our fathers speak to us make us feel stronger or weaker. Their facial expressions make us feel either better or worse about ourselves. Our fathers teach us to love, to live with humility, and they show us the person of God. Or they don’t. And if they don’t, we feel lost—even as adults and our hearts hurt for a word of encouragement or kindness from them because no one can communicate truth on the level that our fathers can.
Friends, each of us still want more from our fathers. If he isn’t alive or if we are estranged from a father, our need doesn’t change—how we handle disappointment does. We have learned that what our earthly fathers can’t (or couldn’t) give, God our Father does. But the fact remains that what our natural fathers do or don’t give makes us the people that we are.
We are living with a nation of children who will be different men and women because their fathers never knew the truth about who they are to their children. We must change that, and we can. This month, find a father and compliment him on a good character quality he displays. If you are a mother, resolve to speak more respectfully to and about your children’s father. Every father deserves more respect—even if he has made horrific mistakes because, after all, he is not a moron who hogs the channel changer, as his children are told; he is a child of God who died to make him whole.
Happy Father’s Day to each of you dads.
Meg Meeker, M.D.
Co-Host of Family Talk and
Physician in Residence
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