May and June are busy months in my family, and it has always begun with a special tradition: buying a ridiculous amount of cards. During the first week of May, for as long as I’ve had my own bank account and debit card, I have taken a trip to CVS or Target to buy cards for all the holidays that my family celebrates during the months of May and June. I make this yearly trip with a list in my hand- or more recently, on my phone- with all the names and holidays coming up. This year, I was tasked with purchasing one Mother’s Day card, two Father’s Day cards, two wedding anniversary cards, and four birthday cards. And I would actually need to buy more, except for the genius idea of creating cards for men who are both fathers and grandfathers and for women who are both mothers and grandmothers.
These past two years have been notable for several reasons. First, I now have a companion for my trips- my son John. Second, this companion also requires several additional cards, since he has turned my husband into a father, my father into a grandfather, and my mother into a grandmother (technically my mother and father have been grandparents for over a decade now, but my personal cards have never needed to reflect that before). And third, never have I struggled to find cards as much as I have these past two years.
Usually, finding cards is not very difficult. I just move down the aisles, jumping from one holiday to the next. With John perched in a shopping cart, I selected birthday cards, Mother’s Day cards, and anniversary cards, until there were only two cards left on my list. The problem? I had already gone through all the card aisles. I quickly scanned the aisles again, spending extra time by the graduation cards, where I imagined Father’s Day cards might be found. Though there had been an entire aisle of Mother’s Day cards, there was not a single Father’s Day card in sight.
I theorized that maybe it was just too early. College graduations were in May after all, so maybe they just hadn’t gotten around to Father’s Day yet. So I went home with the intention of returning at the beginning of June.
Attempt two was mildly more successful. When I arrived at the greeting card aisles, it didn’t take me long to find the area dedicated to Father’s Day. It was maybe half an aisle long, noticeably smaller than the area that had been dedicated to Mother’s Day the month before. I eventually found the only card geared towards fathers who are also grandfathers, and then chose a card with a superhero dad on the front for John to give to Andrew.
It was a minor thing, a lack of Father’s Day cards, but I think it points to a much larger problem in America. Our country is largely fatherless. I’ve written about the poverty of homelessness in America before, but now it’s time to talk about another poverty- a lack of fathers.
Many of our children are growing up without fathers. Many women are being forced to try to be something that they were never meant to be in the first place. We have no real male role models in our lives, and the fathers that the media gives us are pathetic at best. TV shows are filled with fathers who are lazy couch-potatoes, or else who are total womanizers who have no respect for their wives or their children (if they have any). Sometimes the message even goes so far as to suggest that in many cases, children are better off without their fathers.
There weren’t many Father’s Day cards available because there aren’t enough fathers to give them to. In fact, as I perused the shelves, I noticed more “Mom, thank you for being my dad” than “Dad, thank you for being a father to me and a grandfather to my child.” And in case you were wondering, there is a noticeable lack of the flip-side to that card- I didn’t notice any cards to thank Dad for being a mom on Mother’s Day.
Our culture is not overly concerned with teaching boys how to be fathers. It doesn’t even spend much time teaching men how to be fathers. I think this is partially because there is still a large contingent of people who believe that fathers are purely meant to be bread-winners for their family- they don’t need to know how to change a diaper, prepare a bottle, or feed a baby because they shouldn’t be doing those things. That’s “women’s work,” as I’ve heard it said. I think that’s at least part of the reason that some older women still look at us funny when I hand John over to be changed by my husband. More often than not, they’re just surprised that Andrew can competently do those things. But on occasion, it’s not surprise that covers their faces; it’s something a bit more unpleasant.
For the most part though, we live in a culture that is obsessed with trying to convince the world that gender is meaningless. We are told that children don’t need a mother and a father- they just need people who love them. They don’t need their parents to be married- as long as their love for their child is true, the child will be fine. Children don’t benefit from being raised primarily by their mothers- fathers can do everything that mothers can, as can daycare providers and nannies. These suggestions have all been raised to support parents who are raising their children in abnormal situations- to show support for gay couples adopting and more recently, having their own children, single parents and divorced parents raising their children alone, parents who have decided to swap their “traditional gender roles” so that a mother can continue working, parents who both go off to work every day while their children are cared for at daycare centers or by nannies.
Now please, don’t stop reading just yet. Yes, of course I realize that countless parents are forced into these positions through no fault of their own. Mothers are widowed. Fathers are abandoned by their wives. Children are left orphaned and need someone new to care for them. Families might need mothers to work, whether that means fathers stay at home with the children or non-parents must care for the children on a regular basis. Our culture does not make it easy for families to live on one income, and from time to time, it’s the woman’s income that is most needed. There are plenty of parents out there who did not choose these situations (in fact, I am one of them). There are countless mothers who would do anything to be at home with their children, but life doesn’t always work the way we want.
It is a huge problem that our culture makes it so difficult for mothers to be at home with their children. It’s also not fair that death or abandonment leave women single mothers or widows, and children orphans, motherless, or fatherless. It’s not fair that every child is not given the opportunity to be loved by his or her biological father and mother, parents who also love one another, whose love has been strengthened by the bonds of matrimony and has given life in the form of another person. This is the ideal, and this is what every child deserves.
We live in a fallen world, where the ideal is not always realized and not even the innocent get everything they deserve. But that doesn’t mean that we should make the ideal just one option among many. That doesn’t mean that the alternatives are just as good as the ideal, that they can and should be chosen in lieu of the more “traditional” route of having a child raised by both a mother and a father. We live in a sad world, a world that tells our children that we don’t need a mother and a father, that we can be perfectly satisfied with just a mother, or just a father, or two mothers, or two fathers. And if your mother can also be your father, and your father can be your mother, then what does it even mean to be a mother, a father, anyway?
In the wake of the rise of this gender-less concept of parenthood, traditional motherhood and fatherhood have been challenged. While motherhood suffered beneath the heavy burden of this new definition of parenthood, it would seem that the profound bond between a mother and her biological child, established during the nine months of pregnancy, saved it from a total demise. Fatherhood could claim no such bond, and as men struggled to defend the role in their children’s lives, their claim couldn’t survive.
The more that our culture has fought for this gender-less concept of parenthood, the shakier the foundation of fatherhood has become. We no longer know what it means to be a father, and men struggle to understand their role in the lives of their children. And until our culture can give suitable answers to these questions- What does it mean to be a father? How are fathers different from mothers? What unique gifts do fathers offer their children? How do fathers affect the growth of their daughters? Their sons?- we will continue to struggle to find Father’s Day cards for the men in our lives.
Mary Help of Christians, pray for us!