THE ROLE OF FATHER AS FAMILY PROTECTOR
An Interview with James Stenson on Men's Duties
This interview took place in the USA and appeared Dec. 16, 2005 in Zenit.org, an international news agency. It is used with permission.
In an age of same-sex "marriages" and children having "two mommies," the meaning of fatherhood has become blurred for many. James Stenson, educator and author of parenting books, including "Father, the Family Protector" (Scepter), clearly sees men's irreplaceable and imperative role in their marriages and families. Stenson shared with ZENIT the different ways men are protectors, and how they uniquely contribute to the development of their sons and daughters.
Q: Why is it important for fathers to maintain the traditional role as protectors of their families?
Stenson: It's important that we see the role of a father's protection in a broad sense, not just as physical protection from harm. When we look at the very important ways a man protects his family, we can better understand the dire effects in today's families caused by the man's absence -- either physical or moral -- in family life. So, what are the different forms of this manly protection?
First of all, a family man devotes his manly powers to protect his wife from anyone who would threaten her. It seems to be a natural instinct among males, to protect the women in their lives -- wife, mother, sisters, daughters -- from outsiders' aggression. For instance, if a man were standing next to his wife in a crowd and some male stranger turned to speak loudly and angrily toward her, the husband would instantly rise in rage to her defense. Adrenaline would rush through his blood, his muscles would tighten and his first impulse would be to rearrange the aggressor's face. No self-respecting man would stand by and let anyone treat his wife with disrespect. He would take swift action to defend her.
Related to this physical protection is another aspect of a man's protectiveness, one that fathers today often fail to understand. A man permits no one to threaten or upset his wife -- and this includes their own children. A hugely important part of a father's job is to defend his wife against their children's rudeness, insolent disobedience and impulsive aggression. This protection counts most to his wife when the children are small -- under 7 years of age -- and later when they enter adolescence. A man will permit no one to disrespect his wife, including -- and even especially -- at home.
A man also defends his family through what he earns in his work. That is, he doesn't just provide for his family; he protects them from poverty. He shelters them, takes care of their needs for a roof, food and clothing. While Dad has a job, the family feels secure. Even in a two-income home, it seems, children sense that Dad is the main provider, and therefore the family's main protector.
Moreover, he protects his children from forces that threaten them here and now: drugs, bullies, criminals, unjust aggressors of all types and potential disasters arising from their inexperience and impulsive mistakes -- such as dashing out into traffic or playing with matches. Peace, it is said, is the condition we enjoy when other people just leave us alone. Throughout history, the father of a family would protectively stand in the doorway of his home and say, as it were, to the whole world: "Leave us alone. Leave my family alone." For instance, if a father glanced out his living room window and spotted a male stranger chatting with his small daughter, coyly beckoning to her, he would swiftly lunge into defensive action. He'd race out the door, stride aggressively toward the stranger, then confront the man and demand to know what he wanted. With muscles taut, he would stand between his daughter and this potential aggressor, physically shielding her from harm. Another example: When his teen-age daughter is being picked up for a date, a father goes out of his way to size up the young man she's going out with. He wants to meet him -- insists on meeting him -- to look him in the eye and intuitively size up his intentions and his worth. A father senses a duty to assess any young male who approaches his daughter. An unspoken message seems to pass between them: "She's my daughter. Treat her nicely, kid, or else ..."
But most of all -- and this is crucially important -- a father protects his children by strengthening their judgment and will so they can later protect themselves. In the lives of his children, he asserts loving leadership toward responsible, competent adulthood. It is a father's mission -- the challenge that brings out the best in him -- to form in his children the powers and attitudes they will need to succeed in life, to strengthen them so they in turn can later protect themselves and their own loved ones.
So, in his children's eyes a great father is a lifelong leader and teacher. His protective, empowering lessons about right and wrong live on in the inner lives of his children, long after they've left home for good, and indeed long after he has passed to his eternal reward. A great father never stops being a father, for he lives on as a great man in the hearts of his children.
Q: In what other ways do fathers uniquely contribute to family life?
Stenson: The father's contributions to the children's upbringing derive from his mission of protection, as mentioned above. I'll spell these out in broad terms.
A father strengthens his children's competence. He forms lifelong healthy attitudes to work, along with serious habits of work. Without a father's leadership in this arena, his kids can have trouble grasping the connection between effort and results, between standards and achievement. If he fails here, his children may never outgrow the dominant attitude of childhood -- that life is play -- and remain stuck in a permanent adolescence. He teaches respect for rightful authority. He insists that his children respect and obey him and their mother. His wife sets most of the moral tone for the household -- what's right and wrong in family life -- and he enforces it. Being smart and far-seeing, he knows that when children fail to respect their parents, they can later clash with all other forms of rightful authority: teachers, employers, the law, God's law and their own conscience.
A father teaches his children ethics and gives final form to their lifelong conscience. That is, he shows his sons and daughters how to comport themselves justly and honorably in the world outside the home.
In his children's eyes, he is an expert on fair dealings and personal integrity in the workplace and community. He shows his kids how their mother's moral teachings carry over later to life outside the home: telling the truth, keeping one's word, putting duty first, deferring to others' rights and feelings.
By his example and correction at home, he shows how responsible adults respect each others' rights and assert their own. A father builds healthy self-confidence in children. His presence around the home as a physically strong man leads his children -- daughters especially -- to feel safe, securely protected and therefore self-confident. As a father, he corrects and encourages, and he helps his children to learn from their mistakes. In this way, he leads his children to form a realistic sense of their strengths and limitations. Youngsters who receive this protective fatherly love, along with self-knowledge and experience with problem-solving at home, eventually form a lifelong self-confidence.
A father leads his children to adult-level sound judgment and shrewdness. He helps them to use their brains like responsible adults: to frame questions and answers logically, to think ahead and foresee consequences, to assess people's character and values, and to know malarkey when they see it. A father provides an attractive example of responsible masculinity. He acts as a model for his sons' growth into manhood. And he conveys to his daughters -- most often unconsciously -- the traits they should look for in judging the character of men their age, especially suitors for marriage. In countless subtle ways, Dad forms a pattern for manly character in each of his sons and, indirectly, for the kind of man each daughter will someday marry.
Q: For what crucial areas in childrearing are fathers best equipped?
Stenson: A man is best equipped to give support and encouragement to his God-given partner, his wife. When a man treats his wife as the No. 1 person in his life -- when he loves, honors and cherishes her, and shows all this -- his children are prompted to treat their mother with love and respect and deep honor. It seems that the parents' attitudes toward each other form the way the children honor each of them. When the man treats his wife with honor, the children honor their mother; when the wife honors her husband, the children honor their father.
Q: In your work with families, what traits have you noticed in fathers who have excelled in their role?
Stenson: Men who live as great husbands and fathers enjoy the lifelong love and deepest respect from their children. They have a unity of life -- the welfare of their families -- and therefore a peace of mind throughout their lives. Their powers, their work accomplishments, their friendships with other men all come together to give their life meaning and a profound happiness. I have seen men of all different temperaments and backgrounds succeed in this way.
Q: What are the main obstacles in society that threaten a father's teaching role? his role as protector?
Stenson: I would say the main obstacle is that men today have never been taught their role as a father. That is, they've never been given a "job description" of fatherhood. This situation has come about gradually over the past several generations, a lessening of understanding their protective role and what it means. All too often men have been urged to behave like a second mother to the children, or just a figure around the house -- an older "playmate" to the children. Most men are ill at ease with this role and rather resent it, but they have had no alternative role model, especially if they grew up without a strong father at home. This problem is what I address in my book,"Father, the Family Protector."
Q: Contraception, the weakening of moral values and cohabitation have disconnected sex from procreation and "liberated" men from fatherhood, marriage and responsibility. How can we bring the father back into the picture?
Stenson: We can start by teaching men that their masculine character is hugely important to their wives and children, and indeed to their own happiness in life. Unfortunately, males today are presented with the stark and false choice of being either a wimp or a predator. They must be led to see that the choice is really one of being a predator or a protector. Moreover, they need to see that young people do not grow up when they can take care of themselves; rather, they really grow up when they can take care of others -- and want to. This is why God has given them their masculine traits, strengths that lead to lovingly protecting others in their lives, starting with their family.