Self-Respect, MLK, and Fathers — Do You Respect Yourself as a Father?

Boston, MA–I have a hunch that huge numbers of fathers in America do not respect themselves as fathers. They may respect themselves as employees, as churchgoers, as guitarists, tennis players or friends, but not as fathers.

If men truly respected themselves as fathers, why would so many meekly accept second-class parenthood after separation or divorce? Why would so many watch television shows and ads that insult fathers? Why would so many vote for candidates who insult fathers? Why would so many in intact relationships routinely defer to mom”s judgment about what is best for the kids? Why would so many have children out of marriage, denying them any meaningful legal rights to their children?

I don”t know how many fathers this affects, except that the number is large. And I believe this lack of self-respect is at the heart of why the fathers” movement is still a marginal force in society.

It was not always so. When the feminists complain about a history of “patriarchy,’ they are talking about an era when fathers made most of the decisions about children. And if the parents parted, the children stayed with dad.

Somehow, we have swung from one extreme to another, from patriarchy to matriarchy. We need to find the middle. (I most definitely am not calling for a return to patriarchy. Fathers & Families” principles are clear: we believe in shared responsibility for children if both parents are fit.)

About two years ago, I gave a short speech at one of our General Membership Meetings, attended by the usual crowd of 90 or 100 people. The topic was “Shame.’ I thought it was a topic of mild interest to our members, but worth thinking about. To my astonishment, it generated perhaps the strongest reaction of any talk I have given. Some people were tearful, and many emailed me the next day to tell me how powerfully my words had affected them personally.

I think there is a lot of shame among fathers. And I think it gets in the way of reclaiming our fatherhood. Thus, it causes us to shortchange our children.

This brings me around to Martin Luther King. He was shot in Memphis in 1968. He was in Memphis to support a strike by garbage collectors, who sought better wages. To this day, I remember the photographs of the picket lines: old, forlorn, beaten-down black men carrying signs.

Here is what struck me and has stayed with me. The signs did not say “Higher Wages.’ They did not say “More Paid Holidays.’

They said, “I Am A Man.’ The men holding these signs wore their Sunday best.

It was a statement of pride among men who were accustomed to shame and defeat.

Our movement today will succeed when men all over the country throw off shame and say with pride, “I Am A Father.’

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