Patrick A. Coleman wrote a stinging piece a couple of weeks ago about how dads are losing their sense of community, effectively stranding fathers in a lonely place. Others have written about how our image of fathers has changed in the media over the years but this loss of community really touched a nerve with me.
Coleman writes that dads were commonly seen as “thoughtful if distant counselors, dispensing measured advice and measured understanding. Reassurance was dad’s stock in trade.” When I think of the fathers that I knew in my community growing up, I realize how much I looked to them for advice as much as I did my own father. I’m conducting a funeral today for the man who cut my hair when I was a child. He ran the barbershop in such a way that when you entered and decided to come back because the room was full, he would say, “No, come on in; they are just hanging around.” The barbershop was the place where news and wisdom was dispensed along with the haircuts.
I remember walking about a half mile to a friend’s house as a young teenager on several occasions. I didn’t go to see my friend; I went to talk to his dad. I would spend about an hour visiting with this man who must have been a little confused as to why a 13-year-old would come for a visit. He was dispensing wisdom and helping me understand life. Sometimes I would stop along the way at the little convenience store and look through the change for silver coins. The owner would dispense a little wisdom and keep up with my life at the same time. These men were part of the fabric of my community.
Coleman points to changes in the support system for dads. He cites the decline of Trade Unions where over a third of men found community as well as the decline in fraternal and charitable organization membership like the Lions Club or the Elks or Masons. Coleman says membership in all of these organizations has decreased from 14-44 percent since the 1980’s according to Robert Putnam’s book Bowling Alone.
Coleman also notes that church participation is down among men. His number is less than some of the research I’ve seen but still indicates that men aren’t staying in touch after church services as much as they used to. Even the number of local bars is down providing fewer places to stop and enjoy a sense of community before going home after work.
Generation X is busier with their kid’s activities than previous generations. Both are spending more time on their phones, he says. They just aren’t “joiners.”
Say what you will but that tendency to join organizations or even conversations with other men held many of our communities together. Many cite the inclusion of women into these formerly male-only organizations as the reason for this decline. Whether female inclusion has been good or bad for the community, it has proven difficult for men trying to stay connected with one another. If you see a man engaged in a civic club or church these days, you should probably thank him. It seems he is doing something that tends to keep the reassurance flowing in your community. He might even have some good advice for you.