Fathers were the leaders as wagons headed west. When pioneer families loaded their wagons and set their eyes on western horizons, they had leaders in place to help them on their quest. Hard–working men were called upon to be lieutenants, captains, horsemen, and guides. Not many women ventured west alone; if they did, other families in the same wagon train helped provide shelter and protection for them.
The wagon trains conquered territories and made it to the west because of the perseverance of their members and the commitment of their leadership. These were men who paved the way. Sometimes I wonder if we in this country could venture “west” and find success traversing those mountains and crossing those rivers today.
Our country has lost its vision and strength partly because it has lost its leaders and its fathers. It is difficult to be a parent and ford your own rivers when you haven’t had good examples or good mentors.
Father’s Day can be hard. For kids who grow up without a dad, this holiday can be difficult. For kids who have an absent father, it can be frustrating. And, for kids or adults who have no connection with their fathers, this holiday is but a day to endure. For all of us who are without fathers for whatever reason, this day is a reminder of what we never had or what has been denied us.
Little wonder, then, that men in prison seem uninterested in purchasing cards for their dads for Father’s Day. While Mother’s Day brings tearful memories to these men behind bars, and while they clamor to be able to purchase a card for their moms, Father’s Day evokes the opposite response. Our friend Rich served for five years as a chaplain in two different Alabama prisons. One prison held 250 men and the other held 1650 men. He told us, “I would order 1000 cards for 250 men for mother’s day, and every card would go; and they’d ask me for more. But they sent them to their baby mamas and aunties and grandmother and mother. 100 cards would be enough for Father’s Day.”
I grew up without a father. I remember those school days when the art activity of the week was to make something for our dads. What a relief it was when that project and week were over! My sisters and I were in the minority in our four-room, 100-student school. Every other child had a father in the home.
In 1960, a mere 55 years ago, just 11 percent of all American children lived in homes without fathers. Although we were in the minority, we were secure in the fact that our father’s absence was because health reasons had taken his life. His absence wasn’t because he was with another woman or because he had chosen to walk out of our lives. His absence wasn’t because he enlisted and was serving in the military somewhere in another country. We didn’t wonder where he was or if he was ever coming back. We knew he had made provisions to provide for his family before his death.
I can’t identify with folks who deal with childhood or adult pain from being fatherless, whether it’s from death, separation, or the result of an emotional disconnect. However, I’ve seen the pain caused by absent fathers in the eyes of some foster children who have lived in our home, and I’ve wished I could somehow make it all better. I’ve known kids in my neighborhood who suffer from a father’s absence; they need consistency and love to help right the wrong that has been done to them.
When my kids were in school, we heard stories about classmates who lived with other men besides their dad, or were being raised in single-parent homes. In 2010, fathers were “fast disappearing from American homes, and one in three children, or approximately 15 million live[d] without one” according to the U.S. Census.
With not enough men stepping up to steer the wagon train’s course, the percentage of children living with both parents has “decreased markedly in the past decade, and in many urban areas, only one in ten children has a father present.”
Godly men needed as fathers
When there is such a need in our homes, communities or churches, what are we doing about that void?
How many children are in homes without fathers this Sunday, when we “celebrate” fathers?
For those of us who are so blessed, ought we not share it forward?
One thing is certain: those folks are not going to come to us. If we want to provide help, we need to find them and invite them to circle their wagons with ours.
As the pioneers traveled westward, they traveled in the company of others. There was a purpose for this: safety, protection, and community. At night, they circled their wagons.
The circle kept their own cattle from wandering off and provided shelter and protection from wild animals or unfriendly folk in the area in which they were traveling. Circling their wagons protected those who were inside the ring and made it more difficult for others to break through their barrier.
The pioneers needed a circle of wagons. I don’t think they would have made it westward without those scouts, leaders, horsemen and guides. During those dangerous times on the journey, they would not have survived if they hadn’t stayed together and helped each other along.
A circle of fathers
Today, there are families and children who have never had a scout or wagon train leader to provide direction for their passage. They watch other families and church communities who care for each other. These extended families circle their wagons in an effort to protect their own offspring from influences of those who might endanger or harm. Yet the circling of those wagons creates a barrier, keeping others who could use their help from entering into that safe place.
There are fathers who don’t quite know how to be a dad. They neither experienced it themselves nor have been able to observe others for a pattern. Some of them don’t have a relationship with their own father and thus don’t really know how to connect with their own kids. They could use some scouts, horsemen, leaders, and guides.
It’s true that discussions on parenting can be helpful, but fathers today need other dads who can walk shoulder to shoulder with them. Struggling fathers don’t need seminars on how to be a dad; they need other men and families who will walk the shoe-leather path with them, helping them to avoid pitfalls.
When the wagon becomes encumbered and the temptation to bail out sets in, fathers need other men to come alongside, help stabilize the load, and then help them find the place where fording the river is least dangerous.
Shoulder to shoulder dads
Many times dads don’t even realize their need. They might realize they don’t have it all together, but they’re unaware of how to tighten the moorings for their journey. Fathers need other dads with strong families who can help set a pace that fosters success when there’s a mountain to climb or a river to cross. Even fathers who have had good experiences with their own dads struggle.
Parenting is hard. Being a dad and a provider is difficult. Being a single parent (mom or dad) is especially daunting.
When we see a struggling family, rather than tightening the circle of our wagons, wouldn’t it make more sense to make room instead for another wagon and help a fellow pilgrim on the way?
Wouldn’t it be beneficial to all of us if we’d jump in and lend a hand so that one more wagon doesn’t fall prey to the dangers lurking in the shadows?
Wouldn’t it bring more feelings of accomplishment if we helped others succeed rather than scoffing at their inept attempts on a journey they’ve never traveled before?
Rather than cursing the darkness, lend a light. Open the circle. Make room. Invite them in. I think you’ll be glad you did.
How to widen your circle
So you’d like to widen your circle and welcome someone in, but you’re not sure how to do it?
Fireworks are a wonderful display, but until they are lit they are dormant. Here are some fuses to help you ignite a passion for struggling families:
- if you live in a neighborhood, share lemonade or tea one evening and invite kids and neighbors to stop in on your lawn to get acquainted.
- invite a family to spend time with yours at a park or school playground; take some drinks and snacks along and visit with the adults while the kids play.
- visit a cultural event or a zoo with another mom or dad and their kids.
- depending on the ages of your kids, do a trail ride or go on a hike with another family.
- provide tickets and meet at an aquarium or other places of interest; pack a picnic lunch or stop for lunch in town.
- invite others to your yard for an “outdoor movie” and snacks – provided by you.
- find ways to “hang out” that are non-threatening, and then sometime invite others to your home for games and snacks; watermelon on the front lawn is a good way to start.
- seriously: if you’d like more ideas, please feel free to contact me.