Byrd: Fathers are important
Twenty-two years ago, an 11-year-old boy came face-to-face with a reality in which he no longer had a father. Unlike some of his friends whose parents had separated, this young man's father had not just moved away. Death had taken his father, relieving him of ailments that had wreaked havoc on his body for three decades.
As his father's casket was lowered into the North Carolina soil beside the boy's grandmother, the boy watched silently. All around him, family and friends shed tears, but he could not. This troubled him greatly and that night, fearing he might be considered a bad son for not crying at his father's funeral, he sought the advice of his mother, whose only response was to ask him why he thought he couldn't cry.
"I couldn't cry because he wasn't hurting anymore," he said. "It doesn't mean I didn't love him."
Telling him that she knew he loved his father, she rocked him gently back and forth in the bay window of the boy's great-aunt's farm house until he fell asleep.
I always look back on that boy at this time of the year. He spent many nights after that one searching the skies for answers to questions that most likely had none. I remember how angry he was that his father had been taken away. He wondered how he was supposed to become a man if he didn't have the one man that mattered to show him the way.
But somehow he made it. I made it. I celebrated my 33rd birthday on Sept. 18. A week later, I again mourned the death of my father. The road to becoming the man I am today was not without its rough patches. Statistically speaking, it's a miracle I made it all.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 24 million children in America, roughly 1-in-3, live without their father present. And, according to the National Fatherhood Initiative, there is a "father factor" in nearly all of the social issues in America today.
A study found that children with involved fathers often experience a better socio-emotional life and function better academically. They've also found that those children have fewer behavioral problems. And the study showed that the father didn't have to live in the home for the child to reap the benefits. He simply needed to be involved.
There's other benefits too. In father-involved households, children were less likely to become sexually active at a young age, less likely to become pregnant as a teenager, less likely to commit a crime, and less likely to abuse drugs or alcohol.
So yes, the deck was stacked against me when my father passed away. However, I did have a very involved father for the first 10 years of my life, and I wholeheartedly believe that gave me a pretty good head start toward becoming a man that I can only hope makes him proud.
As a father now myself, I know the importance of being there for my children. My relationship with my 14-year-old son is long distance, but thanks to technology, I'm always there for him. And his mother tells me often that he has benefited from our long-distance relationship.
I love all three of my children and there is not a day that goes by that I don't stop and think that that's how my father loved me.
It's an amazing feeling.
Byrd is the news editor of The Dickinson Press. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet him at klarkbyrd.