Father’s Day was first recommended as a national holiday in 1924 by President Calvin Coolidge. In 1966, Lyndon B. Johnson, through an executive order, designated the third Sunday in June as the official day to celebrate Father’s Day; however, it wasn’t until 1972, during the Nixon administration, that Father’s Day was officially recognized as a national holiday. It is difficult to say what their individual motivations were to champion the cause for a day set aside to honor fathers, but our hope is that in addition to another nationwide day of giving and receiving gifts, this holiday encourages us to stop and reflect on the importance of fatherhood and its profound effect on children and our communities.
Far too many children lack the benefit of having an active and involved father. According to census data, as of 2016, 5,158 households in Linn County had children living without their birth father present. Nationally, 24 million children live absent their birth father and 40 percent have not seen their father in over a year. The effects of fatherless homes are not only felt at a personal level for each child who grows up without dad present, but also causes a number of serious issues that ripple throughout the communities in which these children reside, such as increases in runaways, behavior issues, youth in prison, substance abuse, high school dropouts, and youth suicides. Conversely, children who grow up with an active, involved, responsible father are more likely to experience enhanced maternal parenting, a positive influence on child development, and enhanced physical and mental health.
YPN (formerly Young Parents Network) has offered a Dad’s Program for over 30 years. In that time, we have witnessed the trials and triumphs of fatherhood through the eyes of many different families. The trials can be challenging and heartbreaking, as when parents separate and the father loses touch with his child. But the triumphs can be magnificent, such as parents working together to overcome obstacles and barriers to provide a safe and nurturing environment for their children. Our community has a wealth of resources available to help parents be successful, but it takes the parent(s) taking that first step to seek help and a community that supports this. The adage “it takes a village …” could not be more relevant than it is right now.
At YPN, we are fortunate to have a number of community volunteers (many who are parents and grandparents themselves) who offer their time, talents, and experience to educate and mentor local parents. These dedicated volunteers facilitate discussion groups where parents interact with and learn from others in similar situations. As one of our dads said recently, “it was helpful being able to see how other dads deal with various situations in their lives.” We highly encourage dads to be involved in our programs and we stress to both moms and dads that they are equally important in raising their children.
So what can we do at a community level to uplift our fathers? First, men need to understand their critically important role in their children’s lives and be encouraged to step up and fulfill their responsibility. Second, mothers can work toward encouraging dads to be a more active part of their child’s life. And finally, community members and organizations can reach out to local families and offer support. Through education, communication, encouragement, and resources, we can all help make a difference in the lives of not only fathers, but also the families they help to create and raise.
For more information about YPN programming and services, and/or for volunteer information, please visit ypniowa.org.
• Steve Nylin is married with three children and has worked for 15 years as Dad’s Program Specialist for YPN.