The Importance of Fatherhood

Unfortunately, being called "Mr. Hannah Montana" in a glossy-magazine headline is far from Billy Ray Cyrus' biggest problem.

As many a headline has proclaimed, the former country music and television star may be suffering from a brutally true-life "Achy Breaky Heart." Cyrus is divorced and somewhat estranged from his famous daughter, Miley, born Destiny Hope.

Talking about his time co-starring as Hannah Montana's dad in his daughter's series by that name, he tells GQ: "You think, 'This is a chance to make family entertainment, bring families together ...' and look what it's turned into."


Apart from his divorce, it's turned into a daughter, only 18, gone wild in public, in the tradition of many a young female celebrity breaking into commercial sort-of-adulthood.

Her father walked right alongside her for a while, including in a now infamous Vanity Fair photo spread that featured sexually provocative poses. Indulging her career instead of being her dad is how Cyrus says it all went wrong.

"I'd take it back in a second. For my family to be here and just be ... okay, safe and sound and happy and normal, would have been fantastic. Heck, yeah. I'd erase it all in a second if I could."

It's not a flattering picture of Billy Ray, who "sound(s) like a walking stereotype," as Jennifer Roback Morse, author of "Love and Economics: Why the Laissez-Faire Family Doesn't Work," puts it. From the piece, we learn about Cyrus' divorced parents, and that he had two women pregnant around the time Miley was born.

But apart from exposing a mess of a story, the interview ought to serve as a wake-up call to all men who have given up hope on their families, thinking they have failed at fatherhood.

Glenn Stanton, author of "Secure Daughters Confident Sons," offers advice: "Billy Ray needs to gather his courage -- man up -- and do what his heart is screaming at him to do ... He, like all dads, needs to saddle up, ride in and be the protector of his daughter from a predatory world. And I am not talking about being overprotective; that's not helpful either. But as Billy Ray explains in the profile, he has only been riding in after the damage to mop up the mess. That won't do, and it hasn't. His daughter needs him, even if it seems she's sending the message that she doesn't."

Billy Ray seems to know that being a father is important. The most frequently quoted Cyrus lines from the GQ interview are: "How many interviews did I give and say, 'You know what's important between me and Miley is I try to be a friend to my kids'? I said it a lot. And sometimes ... other parents might say, 'You don't need to be a friend, you need to be a parent.' Well, I'm the first guy to say to them right now: You were right. I should have been a better parent. I should have said, 'Enough is enough -- it's getting dangerous and somebody's going to get hurt.' I should have, but I didn't."

Cyrus underscores the predicament of fatherhood and manhood in our culture today. In her upcoming book, "Manning Up," Kay Hymowitz recalls that being someone's father once "gave men a meaningful role and identity, not to mention a reason to go to work. A boy growing up in a dad world knew something was expected of him. The culture insisted: We need you!" Today, however, the message is more like: "You're expendable!" Which is the song Cyrus seems to sing.
But he's not expendable. Stanton emphasizes: "Boys who do not get love, warmth, protection, guidance and affirmation from their fathers tend to become more violent and sexually opportunistic because they are seeking to prove their masculinity to the world. This is what gangs are about. Well-fathered boys don't join gangs. They get that man-affirmation from their dads. Girls who do not get love, respect, care and protection from their fathers will desperately look for it from other males. This moves them toward being party girls and desperate sexual utilities for endless opportunistic boys. Mothers can play a role here, but no one can replace dad's unique role. It is not too late for Billy Ray and other dads to bust down the door and go to their sons' and daughters' rescues."

And as for the Hannah Montana fan at home? "This can be a good, teachable moment where our girls can see with their own eyes exactly what fame and wealth -- too soon -- does to young girls," says Meg Meeker, author of "Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters." "We can use Miley's story to teach them that the better way to invest time, talents and energy, is to work hard at school, enjoy their family relationships and work on building strong character."

During his interview, Cyrus cites another song of his, "Some Gave All." Whatever our vocation, that's the call: all in. And the song's not over. Not for the Cyruses. Not for so many reading his story. Not for a culture needing to embrace its men and dads.

Kathryn Lopez is the editor of National Review Online (www.nationalreview.com). She can be contacted at klopez@nationalreview.com.