We must recover the idea of fatherhood

June 18, 2009
ThoughtForTheDay 20200515 RabbiLordSacks mp3 image 1
Broadcast on BBC Radio 4’s Thought for the Day, 18th June 2009

This coming Sunday is father’s day, and fatherhood has been in the news this week. First there was the report that the number of fathers staying at home to look after the children has gone up 80 per cent in a single year. Partly of course it’s due to rising unemployment; but it’s also due to a real, and very necessary, change of attitudes.

That change is also reflected in a new film produced in America called The Evolution of Dad. There too there’s been a change from the traditional idea that men have careers while women bear the primary burden of childcare. Barack Obama has very publicly made it clear that family time matters to him. In fact the average time dads spend with children has increased 8 times in the past 30 years, from 15 minutes to two hours a day.

And this is very good news, because when marriage and families break down, children suffer, financially, emotionally and psychologically, and often it’s the mothers who are left, literally, holding the baby.

I remember back in the 80s giving a talk about the family in Newcastle, and afterwards a local vicar came up to me and told me how bad things were in his parish. I used to go round schools, he said, talking about god the father, but I can’t do it any more because the children don’t understand. And the word they don’t understand isn’t god; it’s father.

We must recover the idea of fatherhood. Think of this: more than half the 6 billion people on earth today are followers of the abrahamic monotheisms, and if you look in the bible there’s only one place where it explains why god chose Abraham. God says, I’ve chosen him so that he will teach his children the way of the lord. He was chosen to be a father. In fact the Hebrew name Avram means, great father.

My late father had to leave school at 14. When I was young I used to ask him questions, and he used to say to me, Jonathan I didn’t have an education so I can’t answer your questions. But one day you will have the education I never had, and then you will teach me the answer to those questions.

What a gift that was. He gave me time. He gave me love. And he gave me the chance to give him pride. If we fathers can do that for our children, we’ll find that we’ve given them much, and they have given us even more.