It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men… Frederick Douglass
I recently came across this quote from Frederick Douglass and was amazed at the simple, yet profound truth these few words offer. Douglass wasn’t arguing for a culture or practice that chooses to not repair broken men. Instead, he was pointing out the importance of engaging and intervening in the raising, molding, and building of young men so that we can curtail the ramifications that are very real when a society turns its back on ‘broken’ men.
It’s easy to cast stones or pontificate on all the ills facing society. It’s much harder to roll our proverbial sleeves up and be a part of the solution. This is what I, and a host of others, seek to do on a monthly basis with prospective dads in our community. Dads that are nervous, scared, and desiring to step up even though they are doing so without a template or proper knowledge to be the dad and man they need to be. These men are searching for community. They want to be the dad they didn’t have, but they are nervous and afraid of failing. They long to alter the trajectory of their families, but they lack the ability, in some cases, to look toward the future and see these desires as achievable.
Seeking solutions and engaging our neighbors is a daunting task, but it is a necessary task if we truly want to see a society that is flooded with dads that lead, protect, and love their children. We are unapologetically calling these men to action. Our culture struggles with this because our culture refuses to take a look in the mirror and admit that dads are needed. We, on the other hand, understand the important role these men play and we want to assist in raising up strong children, and, yes, even seek to repair broken men.
What does this look like in practice? The formula is a simple one. Will you be a hero, a villain, or a ghost? Now, the formula or question may be simple, but achieving and answering this challenging question will require a lot of work, soul-searching, and consistent effort. This doesn’t happen overnight and it certainly doesn’t happen in a vacuum. This requires a heart, mind, and trajectory shift. This, for many, seems so foreign and unnatural, but it must happen if we want to see desired changes.
The hero, villain, ghost mindset has done wonders for the dads we are serving. I pose this question to these men often because I want them to wrestle with the difficult things in life. I want them to desire to be a hero and understand there will be days where they are a villain and fight with all they have to not be a ghost. The hero I am describing here is not one that leaps over tall buildings or swoops in to save the day. No, the hero I am describing is one that loves unconditionally, leads sacrificially, and fathers unapologetically. Hero dads change diapers, swaddle their babies, and are a part of the solution. I could continue this line of thinking, but ultimately a hero dad will be a constant presence that is wanted and needed.
A villain, on the other hand, is a father (notice I don’t refer to villains as dads…that’s on purpose,) that may be present, but his presence isn’t wanted and only brings chaos. He doesn’t love unconditionally, lead sacrificially, or father unapologetically. He creates problems where none exist. He refuses to tackle the hard things or participate in the rearing of his children. We, unfortunately, see a lot of villains in our culture today.
A ghost father is self-explanatory. These fathers are nowhere to be found. They choose to neglect, run, and disappear. They don’t see fatherhood as a responsibility or something worth pursuing. They are here today and gone tomorrow.
There are certainly days where we slip up or retreat and may feel as if we have bounced out of the hero category into one of the others. This hiccup in our fathering doesn’t define us. Instead, a hero dad will recognize these slips, correct course, and make things right.
I often tell dads that they have an opportunity to change the trajectory of their families for generations to come. I have them think hundreds of years in the future. I paint a picture for them as their great, great-grandkids sit in a living room telling stories of the portrait of the man that hangs proudly above their mantle. This man, their great, great-granddad, did the hard thing and changed their lives forever. I want these guys to understand and appreciate just how important their role is. I want them to accept the responsibility and challenge of being a hero dad. I want them to understand that there will be days where we fail, but those days don’t define our futures.
We can either be a part of the problem or a part of the solution. We choose the latter. We choose to do the hard things and work toward a future where children are loved, dads are engaged, and men are accepting the challenge in front of them. This is the path forward…are we prepared to work toward that end?
posted by Andrew Wood, Executive Director