Twenty years ago, Québec psychologist Guy Corneau published a book entitled père manquant, fils manqué. The title is a French play on words that is untranslatable, but means that there is something lacking in the development of a son when the father is missing. Mr. Corneau explained that he did not only mean fathers who were physically absent, but also those who were preoccupied with other things to the point of being largely uninvolved in the life of their sons. Boys raised in such circumstances usually grow up with large gaps in their emotional and social development.
The book title refers to sons, but the writer makes it clear that girls need their father’s love and attention as much as boys do.
My father was 49 years old when he married, 50 when I was born. He was born in Iowa, homesteaded in Saskatchewan when he was 17. In the beginning he broke land with oxen, farmed with horses and threshed grain with a steam engine. A few years later, when automobiles became common, he went to school in Knoxville, Tennessee to learn the mechanic’s trade.
He could build most anything with wood, using hand tools; he could fix most anything mechanical. But he didn’t know how to teach any of that to me, seldom explained what he was doing, or why he was doing it.
He had a half century of life experience before I came along and didn’t know how to bridge the gap between us. I grew up in a very different era, had a very different education, and this caused me to look at life in a different way. Neither of us understood that this was the problem that made it so hard for us to understand each other.
He tried to give spiritual leadership in the home, reading the Bible and praying morning and evening. But he was a frustrated man, feeling that he had been cut adrift by the church he had grown up in. The Methodist Church had swallowed the social gospel teaching and united with two other like-minded denominations to form the United Church of Canada. My father told of attending a United Church in Edmonton where the preacher made it plain that he did not believe the creation account, the miracles, the virgin birth, the divinity of Jesus or the reality of the resurrection. My father had walked out into the street and wept. That left my father with an oft-repeated set of grievances against much that was wrong in the churches, but without a clearly articulated concept of what the church should be.
Moses instructed the fathers in Israel thusly: “And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up” (Deuteronomy 6:5-7).
Where are the fathers who are doing this today? I know there are some, and I see how that is a blessing to their children. Would our society have ever become so corrupt if more fathers had been faithful in doing that in generations past? Is there really any other way to set things right in our society but to have Christian homes where the father communicates his faith to his children in the way Moses instructed?
I am old now. I survived, I eventually grew up. I don’t blame my father, I’m not sure I did much better in raising my own family. But I entreat young fathers to earnestly try to fulfill your responsibility to be fathers to your children and spiritual leaders in your home.