The author out for some family time with his father and brothers.

Every day the news crawl across the bottom of our TV screen reads: Unemployment at 8.2 percent. Seven million workers have dropped out of the work force—permanently. Medicare to be reduced drastically under the new Affordable Healthcare Act. National debt skyrocketing past $16 trillion. GDP growth an anemic 1.9 percent. 48 percent of Americans don’t pay taxes.

After enough of these little info bites you start to conclude that America is becoming a second-rate country, one divided
by special interests and by political parties so strangled by partisan ideals that they are no longer willing to lead. There is more pessimism in this country than I have ever experienced in my lifetime. We’re in big trouble, and we don’t have a clue how to turn things around.

A good starting point might be to rebuild the American family. Rediscover it, redefine it, support it, and bring it together so that it operates as society’s most important element. Revive those Sunday dinners around the dining room table with your children and their grandparents. Today, our families cry out for parents with strength and a commitment to their core values. Think of all the TV families from the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s like the Andersons, the Nelsons, the Waltons, the Erwins, the Cartwrights, the Huxtables. All of these programs, as idealized as they were, were in some way a reflection of who we were. And at the center was a strong father.

I am wondering whatever happened to Dad. Why has Dad abdicated his role as the leader of our family unit? Why has he lost the influence and respect he once commanded? There are no simple answers but I suspect his slow descent into ineffectuality can be found in the time dads spend with their kids these days.

Back in my day, I don’t remember my dad being around much, but when he was, he was right there for us. My dad was a traveling salesman, departing on Sunday evenings by train from our home in Cincinnati to places like Buffalo, Chicago and Washington, D.C. However, when he returned, we always had dinner as a family. Dad always wore a tie (except on weekends) and he engaged all of us in conversation. The dinner table was where we heard everyone’s hopes, dreams and complaints. Interspersed in these dialogues were his quizzes about the capitals of our states and countries throughout the world. (With the exception of Africa, I still know most of them today.) On weekends, I would caddy for him or work alongside him in the yard cutting the grass or gardening. He was an important part of my life, and I spent as much time with him as possible. 

When my wife and I first moved to Boca Raton in 1980, our business consumed us. As a result, our children’s grandparents picked them up from school, and we couldn’t have done our jobs without them. But no matter how busy we all were, my wife, Margaret Mary, insisted that we have dinner as a family every night. It was our chance to touch base with our children, to share the day’s experiences and to listen to their thoughts and dreams and frustrations.   

The American way of life has survived a Civil War, two world wars, Korea and Vietnam. It has seen a man walk on the moon. But the very innovations that have made us so unique—like the smart phone—have also led to the demise of our families. How many times do you see a family in a restaurant quietly texting or surfing the net rather than talking to one another? 

It’s time for fathers—and parents in general—to take charge, to rescue their families. It’s time to recommit to this institution and bring everyone together. The nuclear family as we once knew it may be changing, but family is family—and nothing provides a stronger building block for a healthy country.  

We may not be able to solve all of America’s problems, but a good starting point is in our own homes.