July 14, 2023
by Micol Collins
What do paternal leadership and authority mean? Social history provides us with a record of what paternal leadership and authority shouldn’t be like. Some of the earliest American records of such misinterpretations come from colonial records of family law: the practice of controlling a child’s complete financial and spousal future or restricting a grown child’s use of agency for good, spousal abuse, sense of entitlement to service from family members at all times and for any reason, or the abuse of children under the guise of authority to deliberately punish for any reason at hand (James, 2014).
Other examples of misinterpreted paternal leadership and authority include the presumption that a man shouldn’t work to support their family, that a man should indulge in whatever pleasure they may, irresponsibility and immaturity, or the notion that a wife is inferior to the husband. Furthermore, paternal leadership and authority have been stained by popular models of disengaged fathers, fathers without a sense of direction in life, men who betray their spouses, fathers who lack foresight and wisdom to guide and protect their children.
These are a few examples of the many ways individuals and societies can undermine the best meanings of paternal leadership and authority. Let me assure you that those words have nothing to do with abuse, authoritarianism, control, and other negative connotations. John A. Cuddeback writes of father’s authority and leadership as the greatest gifts to his children in his timely article. Alongside his insights, I add that a father was always meant to be a child’s guide, a counselor, and a model of how to achieve a healthy development.
In the book “Boys Adrift: the Five Factors Driving the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys and Underachieving Young Men”, family physician and psychologist Leonard Sax explains that in the 1960s and 1970s shows like “My Three Sons”, “Father Knows Best” and “The Cosby Show” exposed the public to a type of father figure whose authority was exercised with the well-being of his family members in mind, and it was respected with demonstrably positive outcomes for his children, wife, and community. Three years before “The Cosby Show” was terminated, “The Simpsons” TV series aired. In it, the father is, “always an idiot, always a klutz, always the least intelligent character in any episode, with the possible exception of his son, Bart, or the family dog. […] father’s advice… is often hysterically awful” (Sax, 2007). “The Simpsons” was followed by a cascade of progressively more deplorable father figures.
This world doesn’t need Homer Simpsons. Wives, daughters, sons, and our society at large all need good fathers. Fatherhood is a social job vital for the sustaining and thriving of a healthy society. Fatherhood cannot be monetized, but it is essentially a way of being that qualifies actions and daily work with the benefit of one’s family in mind. Here are some character traits that true fathers embrace:
A father’s leadership translates in a man driven by a desire to offer his best to his family because
he is convinced of two things: 1) it is the right and honorable thing to do, 2) he loves his family
A father teaches his children to be propelled in life by the most honorable motives. He is aware
of his own heart and can effectively communicate what’s in it with his children both in words
and in action.
A father facilitates the mother’s efforts in fulfilling her duties to the family. A father will help his
wife feel and be safe from worries so she can take care of developing her mothering skills.
A father models the best social virtues attainable by example. He does so because he wants to
be remembered well by his children, and he’s motivated by the simple fact that it’s the right
thing to do for one’s own well-being and the social well-being of others.
A father is a champion of collaboration. He shows his children how to unite forces with others to accomplish great and small tasks effectively. A father knows that a child’s greatest asset is his/her ability to cooperate effectively with others and will not suffer that his children go without such an example.
A father knows how to have wholesome fun and will happily share healthy habits and traditions with his children.
A father knows how to create just and fair rules. He does so because he knows that rules backed by the best principles shape the minds of his children to be just and fair.
A father knows how to discipline. He doesn’t indulge in hurting his children. He is willing to let his children learn difficult lessons, and he is aware that the price for character is cheaper than the price for indulgence and spoilage.
A father can keep his promises. He’s honorable and respectable by virtue of his character before anything else.
A father knows how to apologize and correct his mistakes. In fact, a good father will watch himself and seek correction because he loves to teach his children character traits that truly magnify a man.
A father loves his children’s mother. He respects her and honors her efforts before the children. He teaches his children about fidelity, commitment, forgiveness, patience, enduring love, care, and tactfulness to mention a few.
A father seeks correction and feedback from his wife.
A father is in equal partnership with the mother of his children, and is humble, willing to acknowledge when his perspective needs correction, and is not afraid to correct his wife when her perspective is incorrect for the circumstance.
A father knows how to protect his family members physically and morally. He is aware of his children’s physical and psychological development, and he strives to persuade his children to make choices that are in harmony with healthy human development.
A father is interested in morality and desires his children to learn the best principles for personal and social well-being.
A father knows how to provide for the necessities of his family. A father also desires and works hard to help his family members and himself thrive in life. He does so because he loves seeing his family grow and develop.
Men of every age should embrace the most honorable of commitments, that of being a good father. To the question, “What will this give me?” the answer is peace. Defining ‘peace’ as a state of being among and between people, credible and reliable research studies in human development (Berger, 2018) have confirmed time after time that peace between parents and children, siblings, parents, and other adults is brought about by mutual responses that are directly tied to values such as trustworthiness, patience, virtuous character, affection, care, responsibility and accountability, honor, respect, forgiveness, and hard work. These traits need to be readily cultivated as individuals and within families. When multiple families live up to these values, we all can expect peace at home, peace at work, peace in your neighborhood, peace in your town, peace in your country.
Micol Collins is currently in her senior year at BYU-Idaho. She plans to graduate in the Fall of 2023 with a degree in Marriage and Family Studies, and then obtain a Master’s in Public Administration. She enjoys writing music, hiking, fishing, playing basketball and just staying active with her children and husband. She and her husband are the parents of three children.
James, T. (2014). The history of custody law. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform Sax, L. (2007).
Boys adrift: the five factors driving the growing epidemic of unmotivated boys and underachieving young men.
Basic Books. Berger, K. S. (2018). The developing person through childhood and adolescence (11 th ed.). Worth Publishers.