Father's Day 2021 comes at a unique moment in American history. According to the CDC, births in the U.S. reached record lows last year, with the number of births and the general birth rate both falling by 4 percent. The number of new fathers in America is currently at its lowest point in 42 years.
There are, of course, many reasons for this decline. Surveys have indicated that fears over COVID-19 and economic uncertainties have caused couples to delay or even swear off having children. Another factor is the culturally-instigated increasing trend of women becoming mothers later in life, or not at all. As Erica Komisar has written, "Somehow, we have managed to convince a generation [of women] that working 9 to 5 for a corporation is more noble than sustaining and nurturing human life."
I would put forward another reason: many men in our culture seem to carry with them an undercurrent of fear about becoming husbands and fathers and are therefore not pursuing the commitment of marriage and parenthood with very much energy. I've certainly seen evidence of this in my personal interactions with men around my age (in their 30's). It's also easy for men (yes, even Christian men) to get caught up in a culture that promotes career attainment, worldly accomplishment, and even entertainment consumption as the primary point of life, with a wife and family being a kind of optional add-on if it suits their fancy.
This cultural deemphasis of marriage and fatherhood has significant existential and spiritual consequences. The clearest real-life repercussion is depopulation -- America's current fertility rate of 1.6 babies per woman is well below the 2.1 babies needed to maintain our population. The spiritual ramifications are equally if not more serious. When men believe that they can find ultimate fulfilment in the material world while ignoring the masculine roles of husband and father that our Creator established, they will instead find disillusionment, bitterness, resentment, and unhappiness.
So how can believers even begin to help right the cultural ship? It's an impossible task under our own power, so we must pray for the strengthening of American families, and fathers in particular, as part of our daily prayer routine. Practically speaking, those of us who are fathers can start by nurturing relationships with single men in our circles of influence. Here are three humble suggestions on how to go about this.
Talk Honestly About Your Experience of Fatherhood
In my single days, whenever I gave serious thought about what it would be like to become a father, a certain amount of fear would come over me. I was afraid of the unknown, and I didn't know if I could live up to the challenge. Did I really have what it takes -- the moxie, so to speak -- to be a good husband and father? In my interactions with single guys, I've found these kinds of emotions to be common.
This is why I believe it is important for men who are living out fatherhood to speak openly and honestly about what being a dad is actually like with single men when the opportunity presents itself. By witnessing to what fatherhood is really like, we can demystify and normalize it.
Here's how I would briefly describe my experience of being a father of three boys under the age of five.
First, fatherhood has given me an incredible sense of purpose and a very clear mission for my life. Having a strong sense of vocation in one's life is very important for men. We thrive when we feel we are living out and pursuing a distinct quest with clear objectives. Fatherhood is the most primordial, fundamental, and instinctual role that our Creator designed for men. We are privileged with the task of imaging God the Father's love, tenderness, compassion, and strength to our children. We have been given a vulnerable infant and a mother to protect and provide for. The mission is very clear, it requires intense commitment, and it is extremely exhilarating.
Yes, it's difficult. I'm not here to paint a rosy picture of how marriage and fatherhood will perfectly fulfill you at every moment of every day. There will be times when you will feel completely overwhelmed and powerless, to the point where you will feel like you have literally no time to yourself and that there are not enough minutes in the day for you to fulfill your daily duties of your job, house chores, upkeep of your property, quality time with your wife and children, etc. And there will be times when you will feel incapable of fulfilling your role as a father, as if your paternal instincts have mysteriously abandoned you.
But wow, what an adventure. You'll see the world through the eyes of a child again and will be witness to a renewed sense of innocence, and in the process you'll learn new things about yourself on a daily basis. You'll find reservoirs of strength that you can draw from that you had no idea you even had. Over time, you'll find yourself instinctually knowing what you need to do as a father in certain situations, because our Creator has built the capacity for fatherhood into the very nature of man. You will marvel at how quickly your children grow and blossom. You will discover like never before what it is to love another human being -- the incarnation of your spousal love -- so completely and fervently. The intensity of this love will surprise you, will overcome you when you least expect it, and will also break your heart.
Let Single Men Witness Your Family Life
Having a heart-to-heart conversation with a single man about fatherhood is great. But the best way to experience what family life is really like is to immerse them in it first-hand. Invite your bachelor friend to join your family for a trip to the park, family game night, or family dinner time. This can be a great way to expose them to the joys of helping small children navigate jungle gyms, the dynamics of family play, and the beautiful chaos that often ensues around messy young eaters, dinner table chatter, clean up, and play time afterward, which are all illuminating windows into the delights and challenges of family life.
Also, don't be shy about inviting single guy friends to your house whenever you are hosting a get together for other families. Whether it be a kids birthday party or a Memorial Day BBQ, being able to be a part of the community that naturally forms around family life is an invaluable way for bachelors to witness the unique pleasures of marriage and fatherhood.
Don't Be Afraid to Mentor Bachelors
Having candid discussions about fatherhood and extending personal invitations into your home are more than just simple courtesies we can extend to our bachelor friends -- they are ways we can actively mentor them. Keep in mind that "mentorship" doesn't have to be some kind of spoken agreement, especially if it's between a father and a single friend who is around the same age. For fathers, being a mentor can simply mean being a really good friend -- always being there in tough times, being willing to give a little guidance, or even setting up your single friend with a potential match if the moment seems right.
In the end, building up a renewed culture of fatherhood in America has to start with men leading by example and encouraging one another to fulfill their full potential as husbands and fathers. As is often said, courage breeds courage. When a man takes a step forward in faith, receiving the gifts of a wife and children into his life with an open and loving heart, God the Father smiles with joy as another one of His sons humbly accepts the masculine role he was designed to fulfill.