Happy Father’s Day to the Other Dads

Celebrating the men who step up for kids who aren’t their own

Father’s Day is coming up on June 19, which means we’ll be seeing plenty of ads for “Great Gifts for Dads & Grads,” car commercials with dads behind the wheel of pick-up trucks and luxury cars, and viral videos of loving dads that will leave a lump in your throat. While I’m as much of a sucker for a beautiful dad story as anyone, none of these is what I want to talk about today.

This Father’s Day I want to celebrate the other dads—the ones who may not be dads at all. I want to celebrate the men who step in and step up in the lives of children whose real fathers, for one reason or another, can’t be there for them.

I’m talking about the neighbor who helps a young boy learn to ride a bike or discover the tricks of algebra when that boy’s own father is deployed overseas. I’m talking about the big brother who takes gentle care of his younger siblings because he had to become “the man of the family” when their dad walked out. I’m talking about the youth-group leader who provides a consistent presence and a ready ear for the youngster whose father travels constantly on business. I’m talking about the soccer coach whose guidance, encouragement, leadership, and even his strict rules help fill a tremendous vacancy in the life of the teenage girl whose father has passed away.

I’m talking about my own dad, who coached baseball teams on the other side of town from our affluent neighborhood, because those boys didn’t have all the advantages my siblings and I were fortunate enough to grow up with—including a generous and open-hearted father. And I’m talking about my wonderful husband, who became an instant stepdad to my children when we got married, and who has offered my kids such a loving heart and such wise counsel that it truly brings a lump to my throat.

Columnist Charles Blow, writing in The New York Times, said, “When there is an empty space where a father should be, sorrow often grows. The void creates in a child an injury that the child is often unable to articulate or even recognize.” My heart aches for these children, who could benefit so much from the input of a caring, responsible male adult (with the blessing of the children’s mother, of course).

That’s why I encourage my male readers, whether you have children of your own or not, to look around you. Do you know a family missing a dad due to death or deployment or divorce? Can you provide a service to that family—whether it’s offering to make repairs around the house or help the kids with their homework? Is there a community center or YMCA where you can volunteer your time with kids whose family lives have been disrupted? Can your church or temple youth group or your local school use your help? The service you will provide is tremendous—but the rewards you’ll receive are even greater.

I celebrate all of you men who have given such a gift to the children and young people whose lives you’ve touched. Maybe you already have a sense of what a difference you’ve made; maybe you won’t really know for many more years down the line. But I’m here to tell you: You have changed these children’s lives for the better.

Many Ways to Be a “Dad”

There are children all over this country who can benefit from the gift of your time and your care. Here are a few ways to get involved: