Despite today's depressing portrayals of paternity and patriotism, there is actually hope for the future, and it comes from those now serving in our armed forces. In the process of conducting hundreds of interviews for my book "American Heroes" -- both here in the United States and overseas -- it became clear that today's military dads have a lot going for them that their civilian counterparts simply don't. Though recent headlines have hyped spiraling divorce, child abuse, suicide and domestic violence rates in our armed forces, the actual statistics for all these "adverse factors" are considerably lower in our military than they are for a similar age group in the civilian population.
When I visit U.S. military bases with our Fox News' "War Stories" documentary unit, I frequently have the opportunity to ask schoolchildren, "What does your dad do?" Though their dads may have been gone for months and 10,000 miles from home, the responses are overwhelmingly affirmative: "My dad drives a tank," "My dad flies a plane," "My dad makes a ship go." At Camp Lejeune, N.C., two weeks ago, a 7-year-old told me, "My dad is a Marine platoon sergeant. He's fighting for our country in Afghanistan."
You don't have to be old enough to remember Art Linkletter's "Kids Say the Darndest Things" to know that unless dad is a fireman or a cop, most young people haven't the foggiest idea what dad does all day at work. While these anecdotes are hardly scientific evidence, they do tend to amplify real differences between military and civilian dads.
Today's military dads are all volunteers. They are brighter, better-educated and in far better physical condition than their civilian peers. Notwithstanding the extraordinary hardship of repeated long separations, the inevitable stress of combat, and the danger and uncertainty attached to their work, they generally express greater job satisfaction than their nonmilitary counterparts. Though wartime deployments shift most of the burden for child rearing onto their mothers, the children of military dads express greater certainty and admiration for what their fathers do than their nonmilitary peers.
Does any of this make a military dad better than a civilian father? Certainly not. But in an age when our media disparages fatherhood in general and defames those who wear uniforms in particular, this would be a good weekend to go ahead and wave the flag and thank God for fathers who are willing to serve.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.