Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Reflections on Fatherhood

Last Sunday was Father's Day. Barak Obama used the occasion to speak on the subject of absent fathers -- a subject about which he knows something. Citing American statistics, he said, "Children who grow up without a father are five times more likely to live in poverty and commit crime; they're nine times more likely to drop out of schools, twenty times more likely to end up in prison."

As someone who taught high school for thirty-two years -- admittedly north of the American border -- I can verify anecdotally what Obama said statistically. I cannot count the number of times I have wished that a student had a stable, responsible father in the house. That father need not be the child's biological father; but his absence leaves a void that's hard to fill.

Sometimes that void is filled -- as seems to have happened in Obama's case -- by extended family. That happened in the case of my own father. He was the last of six children. His father died when he was two. His eldest brother quit school early and went to work during the Depression to help support the family. My uncle lacked a good formal education; but he possessed a native intelligence which my father relied on often. When my father returned from World War II and had the opportunity to go to university, it was my uncle who told him that there was a future for engineers. His advice put food on our table for nearly thirty-five years.

My dad must have picked up other tips from my uncle because, even though he never knew his father, Dad has done a masterful job with five children, eight grandchildren and two great grandchildren. I talked to him this weekend -- as I do every weekend; and I still seek his advice. He's almost ninety now. And, like Mark Twain, I am amazed at just how smart he has become over the years. It's more than being smart. It has everything to do with wisdom.

Unlike my father I have had -- and still have -- a template to work from. When I have been flummoxed about how to raise our three sons, I have sought his counsel. And perhaps that is why they have inherited his sense of humour. Our boys gave me a card this Father's Day which my wife particularly enjoyed. "On Father's Day," it read, "wear this button to show your position of authority in the family!" The button proclaims, "I am the boss!" However, when you open the card, it reads, "But don't forget to give it back to Mom tomorrow."

Which leads to the conclusion, I suppose, that the trick to being a good father is marrying the right woman. I know my Dad would say that, as do I. And, for all those kids who grow up without fathers -- and there seem to be more of them every year -- everyone of us should resolve to be what my uncle was to my father -- a wise and stable source of counsel in an unstable world.


Anonymous said...

Greetings, This is that old man who has somehow become smarter and has acquired more wisdom since his son was a 15yr old high school student. Thanks for the kind words. You may have embellished history a little but I can live with that.You are right about a man has to choice the right wife. I think I did that, I was lucky. As for being smarter and maybe having a little more wisdom, I am not the one to judge that, I will leave that to others but if I have improved, even a little, the reason is simple. I LISTENED TO YOUR MOTHER.

Owen Gray said...

My wife agrees completely with the author. And who am I to disagree?