Fathering and Moral Development
"The most important...work you and I will ever do will be within the walls of our own homes."-Harold B. LeeContent
OverviewFor many fathers, the moral development of their children presents a fundamental concern. This segment addresses this escalating concern and exhibits some related successes.
Families are similar to houses; stable foundations add to the strength and durability of both structures. In an age of weak and shifting values, fathers who provide a solid moral foundation for their children give them a reliable base to stand upon. "A father's absence from the home [has been] associated with children's tendency to engage in problem behaviors" (Marsiglio, 1993, p.11). Whether children are making challenging decisions, determining priorities, or simply interacting and conversing with others, their moral roots provide a compass that can bless their lives.
StoriesThrough Mentoring work, fathers can instill in their children correct morals and values which will help their children deal with obligations in life. By refusing to tolerate vulgar language in his home, even at the expense of a business transaction, the father in the following story sent a lasting message to his son.
"Dad had a used chainsaw he wanted to sell. Frank came to the house to discuss it with him. He came in and sat down, and began to tell a smutty story. Dad stopped him. 'Hey, we don't talk like that with kids sitting here.' Frank looked at him like a bull looking at a new gate-- and continued his story. Dad stopped him again. 'That's enough of that.' Frank responded with an obscene and offensive oath... Dad reached across the coffee table and bear-slapped him clear over the arm of the chair. It sounded like a pistol shot. 'Now get out of here!' Dad ordered. 'Wait a minute-- what about the saw?' Frank asked as he picked himself off the floor. '[If] You don't know how to act in another man's house, you got no need to be doin' business with him...' I don't know when or whether the saw was ever sold but I did learn that a certain brand of language was unacceptable in our home."
Nurturant fathers who encourage free expression of opinions, initiative and perserverance are helping to develop a solid foundation for their children's independence and later life achievements (Biller, 1993, p. 150). The fathers in the following accounts encourage their children to make moral decisions but show respect for their children's agency by allowing their children to express their ideas and make the final decisions. These stories are great examples of Development work.
"He [Dad] has taught me the proper way to live, and has helped me make right choices. One experience I had with my dad illustrates this perfectly. When I was fifteen years old I was with some friends who wanted to watch an R-rated movie. I called my dad from their house and asked him if I could watch the movie. He just replied, 'I shouldn't have to say anything to you. You can make the choice.' I quickly made the choice to go home and I realized that my father had saved me from doing a wrong act, but he also let me make the choice myself."
"When I was twelve years old, I thought the world revolved around basketball in general and the Jazz in particular. At the time I listened to all of the Jazz games over the radio because our family did not have a TV. Monday nights were a special family night for our family. We were not to schedule anything on Mondays so that we could enjoy that one evening together. One Monday afternoon my best friend called me and invited me to go see a Jazz game IN PERSON with his dad and brother that night! I was ecstatic! Seeing a Jazz game on TV was a rare treat but seeing my first NBA game 'live' would be a dream come true. Suddenly, my heart sank... it was family night. I quickly figured that I could whine my way into a 'Go ahead and go' response from my parents even though I knew that I should keep my commitment to my family. When I approached my Dad with the big question, he paused for a while and then replied, 'Son, you are old enough to know what you should do. You can make the decision for yourself.' This was not the answer I expected. If Dad had simply said 'No', I would have driven him crazy until he relented. Then I could have enjoyed the game guilt free because (in MY mind) his consent would have served as a pardon from my commitment to our family night. However, he was wise enough to place the choice AND THE CONSEQUENCE fully on my shoulders. If I saw my game I would have to do it knowing I had pushed my family down on the list of my priorities. I elected to stay home with my family and although I do not remember what we did that night I have remembered how my Dad let me exercise my agency and learn that the choice which leaves you with a clear conscience is always the best way to go."
The following three stories illustrate Mentoring work. In dealing with the discipline of his errant son, the father in this experience shows his pain and disappointment regarding his son's decision while still showing his love for him. Both components of the father's reaction harmonized to instill a lasting moral impression in the son.
"I was ten years old and I got caught stealing. The hardest part wasn't being caught. If the store manager just would have called the police and had the policeman come to me and give me a lecture and had him say what might happen, then everything would have been fine... The store manager caught us and he didn't call the police. He called our parents and said, 'Can you please come up here? I have your kids and there are some things we need to discuss.' That wasn't the worst part. The worst part was that when our parents came to the store the manager did not say a word. He simply said, 'I think your kids have something to tell you.' So, I had to tell my father that I'd gone in and tried to steal... from the store. The shock-- the loving was always in his eyes, but you could tell that I had hurt him in that I would consider doing something like that. To know that I had hurt my father was very difficult... he was very proud of his name. For the first time in my life I felt like I had damaged his name, and I'd let him down. That was a painful lesson to learn. The lesson was that there are a lot of other consequences down the road which you need to answer based upon the decisions that you make, and sometimes you don't even know what those consequences are. As a little ten-year old kid you think that you get caught, they slap your wrist, you give back [what you have stolen] and you're out the door. You don't realize how deep and far it can go."
The daughter in the following account relates how her father's concern and patience helped her to escape depression and develop a selfless new perspective.
"I was having a very difficult time accepting the fact that I had to leave all my friends and school activities in Huntington Beach and move to Washington. I still had two years left in high school and I was feeling very cheated that I had to leave behind all that I loved and start over again. One night I was particularly upset--more than usual. I was crying almost uncontrollably and went to my mom and sister for consolation. I pleaded with them and tried to tell them that I just couldn't move. I did not know how I could handle it. I felt as though I was in the depths of despair. They could offer no sympathy for me because they saw my display as childish and selfish. I wasn't the only one moving but I seemed to be only concerned with my own problems. I felt even more desperate and just sort of collapsed on the couch in my sobbing. I didn't really remember falling asleep but I remembered being awakened much later by my father. He was gentle and soothing. I didn't say anything and he simply had compassion on me. He said that if there were any other easy way they could make it easier on me they would. Then he asked if we could say a prayer together. He said a sweet prayer that I might be okay through the move. Then I went back to sleep. From that time on my attitude began to change 180 degrees."
In the following story a father teaches values that impact his child's life.
"I was in the ninth grade and had some heavy duty math homework. Ninth grade math was not easy for me. I struggled with the problems and often looked to the back of the book for help. In the back of every math book the answers to all the odd numbered problems are found. These answers are to help students with the concepts and allow them to work the even-numbered problems on their own. One evening when dad was checking my homework, he noticed that I was getting half of the problems right and half of them wrong. Dad began to ask questions and I told him I didn't understand the concepts in the book. I told Dad I was looking in the back of the book for answers. Now before I tell you what Dad did, let me preface this by saying, I think there was a lot weighing on his mind that day and Dad was stressed about something besides me. I couldn't see this at the time and maybe that's why it affected me so much. After I explained to Dad what I did, he sat back in his chair and got the most disappointed look on his face and began to cry!! Can you believe it? He cried and cried and told me how disappointed he was in me and that I was lacking integrity when I cheated like that. It just about killed me. I really looked up to my dad and didn't want to hurt or disappoint him. After that incident I never 'cheated' from the back of the book again. Although I can't say my math grades improved much after that, my Dad taught me a lesson more valuable than math. Dad taught me personal integrity is more important than anything else. Dad lives by this rule and has more integrity than any man I know."
These last two stories are especially powerful because they exemplify how moral development can blossom in life's most trying situations. The forgiveness and reconciliation evident in these accounts remind us that a change of heart and some moral effort can result in the most priceless of rewards. They show the power of Relationship work in moral development.
"After I had been in college for approximately a year, my grandfather (on my father's side) went into a coma. Previous to this time, my attitude toward my family was one of 'I am never going back.' For some reason (which I discovered later), I felt that I should discontinue school and go to Dallas,Texas, where I could be of assistance to my grandmother. I proceeded to do so knowing that my father (who lived in Alabama) would be visiting. My hope was to be of comfort to my family, especially my father and grandmother, and also to see my grandfather once again before he passed away. With hardly any money and a bag full of food donated by roommates and friends, I boarded a bus to Dallas. Upon arrival, I went straight to the hospital where my family was gathered. I walked into the hospital room unprepared for what I was to see. There lay my once able grandfather with numerous tubes and apparatus surrounding him. His breathing was labored. I was told he was still in his coma and that he was paralyzed on his left-hand side...I took my grandfather's hand and told him how much I loved him. Previously, the family had been taking turns staying with my grandfather so he would never be alone. It was my father's 'shift.' It was night time and I was tired, but I chose to stay with my father, realizing that this may be the only time that I had to share with him before he (my grandfather) died. Something magical happened that night as my father and I talked, each holding the hand of a dying member of our family. We talked about things we'd never discussed. I asked questions that I had never had answers for. I started to understand my father... My grandfather's slow, struggled breathing served as a mediator and peacemaker as we discussed topics that could have ignited with emotion...That night as we talked, I began the healing process. The next morning I woke up with a momentary start... I could tell that this time for my father was very precious and that I had been privileged to be there with him. I felt an emotional bond with my father that I had never felt before. I stood up, stretched, and walked to the window which overlooked the Dallas horizon. As I peacefully gazed out the window, the beauty of the morning sun reflected off the skyscrapers filling my view with the dazzling morning colors of pink and orange. It was beautiful. I thought of the occurrences of the previous night and my heart felt peace. This was a new peace. It was a peace I had never felt before. It was the peace that is felt by a daughter who realized for the first time that she has a father who loves and cares about her."
"In the process of dying my father was ill and would frequently call us over to be with him. I can't think of a specific moment, but it was just those times that he called us over to talk about religious things with us. He always called for a blessing. That was basically our relationship--either arguing over a gospel topic or discussing it, one way or the other.....He always wanted... his immediate children, to finish music lessons and none of us took more than a year or two. But his grandkids have excelled in music and so as he was dying, within a month of his death, they took a flute and violin over there and two of the girls played for him. That was somehow a connection between him and me and them, and so it was... an emotional time because I knew that it meant something deep to him. For me it's reconciliation, because we didn't have an open relationship as an adolescent and a parent. I was able to kiss him and hug him while he was dying. Everything just melted away and there were no more bad feelings."
ConclusionFatherWork in the area of moral development must be an effort of endless devotion. A wise shepherd knows that he cannot force his prized sheep to always remain on the safe path. Instead, he strives to guide them along the path with his staff of kindness. The shepherd's first concern is for his sheep; they are his work and his love. His fulfillment comes through guiding them to the meadows and streams which will bring them the richest joy. A generative father feels the trust of his child and feels the profound responsibility to teach, guide, and set an example to the best of his ability. Like the wise shepherd, a generative father's concern and guidance are constant for both sheep who need little correction and for those who frequently get lost. Frustration comes and goes but hope remains constant. No father knows where all the dangers are or where the wolves lie in wait, but as you strive to guide your children with a staff of kindness and a loving example, you will bless their lives and find with them the joy of peaceful pastures.More metaphors about fathering
Learning and Application ActivitiesPlease complete one of the following: