I have been a U.S. Army officer responsible for the welfare of other soldiers, a business owner responsible for the livelihoods of my employees, and now a governor responsible to more than 4 million Kentuckians and 30,000 state employees. Yet, by far, the greatest and most sacred responsibility I have is to be a good husband to my wife and a good father to my nine children. Though at times I have done so imperfectly, I have always tried to make sure my wife and children know, beyond any shadow of a doubt, my love for them and my dedication to their well-being.
Every generation faces challenges, but perhaps there has been no more difficult time in American history than right now to be a good father. Our culture is awash in confusion caused by shifting messages that, at every turn, seems to undermine the nuclear family and be critical of its merits. At the same time, fathers themselves face unwarranted criticisms and pejoratives like “toxic masculinity” and “patriarchy.” Even without this added pressure, it can be daunting for some men to strike the balance between being true leaders in their households and being loving, nurturing parents.
There should be no confusion. Strong fathers who lead, instruct and encourage from a foundation of selfless love, though they may make mistakes, will not ultimately go wrong. As I write this, much of the world is appropriately celebrating the courage of the Greatest Generation that was displayed on D-Day. Each man that stormed the beaches, piloted a plane, served on a ship or parachuted behind enemy lines had his own flaws and shortcomings. Yet those flaws did not deter them from literally saving the world from tyranny and delivering freedom to generations that would come after them. At the same time, the vast majority of these men, who would become our fathers and grandfathers, returned from war and raised us with firmness and love.
There was not much ambiguity with that generation as to what role those fathers should play in the lives of their children. There was very little question about who would establish discipline in us, but at the same time there was little doubt as to how much they loved us. Of course there were exceptions, as there always are. Overall, however, their traditional interpretation of fatherhood, and of male roles in society, served us and the world pretty well.
For those traditional fatherhood roles, as modeled by many members of the Greatest Generation, to be effective, love must be their foundation and the basis for everything a father does. Both discipline and nurturing must flow from love. Self-indulgence and the desire for instant gratification must be limited by love and the desire for what is best for our children, as near as one can determine “best,” must be foremost in a father’s mind.
At the same time, men in America must step up and get engaged. The perceived role that the culture has foisted upon men in recent years — that of the perpetual adolescent, the naive dolt, or the guy who is unwilling to bear a father’s responsibility — has been embraced by far too many. Kentucky still has a deplorable number of dead-beat dads. This is totally unacceptable. The truest measure of manhood is a willingness to serve one’s wife, other loved ones and children, and to willingly step up to bat to bear the responsibility for their well-being.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention an aspect of fatherhood in my experience that has provided tremendous blessings to me, my wife, Glenna, and our entire family. Four of our nine children are adopted. They have enriched our home and community more than I can possibly articulate in a few short paragraphs.
If you are reading this, and you have ever thought about adopting, I encourage you to visit the website adopt.ky.gov. There you will find many helpful resources to guide you. I encourage those with open hearts and open minds to adopt. Giving a child a forever home will provide both you and that child with a lifetime of joy and blessings.
As Father’s Day approaches, may the men of Kentucky, and across this nation, be blessed with Providential wisdom, patience and courage and may we get engaged in the lives of our children like never before. If we do so, the world will truly be a better place.