Who Needs Fathers?
A few years ago I was invited to appear on a TV talk show to discuss whether children need fathers. The panel consisted of single mothers who chose, through artificial insemination from anonymous sperm donors, to bring a child into the world who would never know his or her biological father. At the time I had just had my first child and was new to parenting, so although I was arguing that children definitely need fathers, my perspective was somewhat limited. Since then I have had an additional four years of parenting experience, two more children, and lost my own father. I now feel much more qualified to talk on this subject.
Indeed, the miracle of life is breathtaking. Last night, while my wife took a much-deserved early night sleep, I had the privilege of looking after our nearly two-week-old son, Shmuley. He lay in my arms with his gray eyes wide open, staring at me. As I looked into his eyes, it occurred to me how vulnerable he is. Suddenly I was overcome by a tremendous sense of responsibility. I was in partnership with G‑d to shape the future happiness, success and achievement of this little bundle of joy. The responsibility of being a father hit me in the most profound manner.
Shmuley is named after my father, of blessed memory. As I looked at him, I was taken back in time to when I was a small child. I tried to recall the first memories I have of my own father. The first memory that came to mind was of sitting on Dad’s knee while he jiggled me up and down and played “airplanes” with me.
The second memory was of my third birthday, which in chassidic circles is called an upshernish or first haircutting ceremony. I was given a bag of chocolate wafers as a present, and my older brothers and their friends were chasing me because they wanted some. While running away from them I fell and hit my head, which began to bleed. Here my father stepped in and took care of my wound. To this day, I vividly recall lying on the kitchen floor while Dad calmed me down and put a Band-Aid on my forehead.
As a child I felt safe in the knowledge that if I fell down and got hurt, Dad would always be there to make things better with a kiss and a cuddle—and a Band-Aid with antiseptic cream, if necessary. Dad would also readily play with us in a way that only dads can. As I grew up, the relationship changed and he started to teach me things that would help me to grow into a responsible and successful adult. Indeed, the contribution Dad made to my life is irreplaceable.
And there I sat, with my third son in my arms, realizing the awesome privilege that Sheindy and I share in helping to shape the life of a fellow human being. I recognized the great responsibility we have towards the child we brought into this world. I acknowledged the honor of devoting the time and energy needed to ensure that our children develop into adults who will become credits to society and forces for positive activity in this world. Above all, I acknowledged the tremendous responsibility I have as a father, and the unique contribution only I am able to make to the life, future stability and success of my children.
Obviously, there are cases in which a child’s biological father would be a harmful, even dangerous presence. And many children are, unfortunately, denied a loving father’s involvement in their lives by circumstances beyond their mother’s control. But other than in these extreme cases, only a heartless person could willingly deny a child a relationship with his or her biological father.