These days we are often forced to explain what is (or isn’t) a woman. But we think less about the necessary other side of the question: what is a man, and what does it mean to be a father? 

The two sides are in tandem with one another. Answering questions about manhood and fatherhood must acknowledge that men and women are inherently different, but both are essential. Healthy families require healthy manhood and fatherhood. 

The statistics are indisputable on the positive effects of a father being actively present in the lives of his children and his irreplaceable role. As Harvard family scholars declared, “The importance of engaged fatherhood is now undismissable in ways it was not in earlier decades.”     

I experienced this firsthand growing up in a single-parent home for the first 6 years of my life. While my mother placed father figures in my life to show me how a man should behave, I still felt the lack of a present father. Unfortunately, I am far from the only one. Only one in two children in America will spend their whole childhood living with both biological parents. Even though I did not live my entire childhood with both of my biological parents, I was fortunate enough to be adopted. In my case, my adoptive father showed me what a true father does day by day in ways my biological one never did.         

This past Sunday, I celebrated and thanked my adoptive dad. While it was his day to be honored, he drove several hours early in the morning to help me catch a flight—just another sign of his unselfish love.     

So when thinking about manhood and fatherhood this Father’s Day, I decided to sit down at the kitchen table with the greatest example in my life.    

What does it mean to be a man? 

To be a man is to recognize your limitations and model manhood through your actions. “You have to admit your weaknesses.” You have to acknowledge your dependence on a being higher than yourself and ask for God’s wisdom and direction. “You can say whatever you want to say, but the true test of you as a man will be what did you do.”      

What does it mean to be a father? 

It is more than just contributing to the birth of a child. When children are young, your primary role as a father is to protect and provide. Then as they get older, the role shifts to more of a mentor and director. The child is the ship, and you’re the rudder, asking questions, listening, and seeing if your child wants feedback. Then when your child becomes an adult, you are more of a mentor and friend, who models values and encourages. “A true good father is really an age-specific shepherd.”

What are some areas for policy to foster healthy fatherhood?  

Too often, “our government has created policies that reward irresponsibility” from males, leaving mothers with the financial burden of the child. Policies should encourage work and responsibility by creating work requirements for welfare benefits when the individual is able to work.  

What are the limits of policy in encouraging fatherhood?  

We must recognize that “government cannot function as the family.” Small communities and extended families are best suited to take care of those around them. They can do so more effectively than the government by knowing the specific needs of the individual and making the individual feel more valued. “The individual is better off being cared for by their family … and ultimately being empowered to be independent … versus being dependent on the federal government.” 

Where can we read more of your work? 

“You can read it in my children.”