“…could I but teach the hundredth part…”

This weekend brings another holiday, the day set aside in our culture both to honor those fathers amongst us, as well as those fathers that came before us.

Not too many people of my generation are aware of this but it took an act of Congress to get Fathers Day recognized as a national holiday. Literally.

Despite the efforts of three U.S. presidents (Woodrow Wilson, Calvin Coolidge and Lyndon Johnson) over the course of more than 50 years, it was not until Richard Nixon signed it into law in 1972 that Fathers Day became a national holiday.

A sentiment of cynic stoicism so pervaded the culture, that the thought of honoring fathers in a way that betrayed sentimentality or deep emotions was considered maudlin.

It didn’t take long for the suggestion of a “Fathers Day” to become a source of derision within the media of the day. Such that we still have the lingering droll parade of garish neckties, fishing gear and cigars symbolically associated with the event.

The same sentiment exists in our present day, though I would argue that any “cynicism” directed towards the mantle of fatherhood is likely for far different reasons than those of the first half of the 20th century.

For many of my generation “fatherhood” represents a patriarchal authority figure that clashes with our self-centered libertine impulses.

Still, for others, fatherhood is only represented by what was missing. So many of my peers grew up without fathers or, if their father was there, he might as well not have been.

In my own anecdotal experience, this has resulted in a legacy that has been passed onto yet another generation.

Among many of my classmates, I count a multitude of single mothers and divorceés, and even more children growing up without fathers…  perpetuating the vicious cycle.

This is not to discredit the work many of these ladies do in raising their children, despite the hardship, but it is a burden that is borne as a consequence of the hardness of human hearts.

By no means am I throwing men “under the bus,” but again from my own experience it is an overwhelming majority of guys who simply refuse to man-up and conduct themselves as men.

I saw this most severely when I worked for a non-profit organization on the East Coast in an urban context.

My role brought me into the living rooms of a number of families that consisted almost exclusively of single-mothers and multiple children. While they often maintained their households with an industriousness and creativity that left me in awe, I could only lament at how another woman had been failed by a man and how the children would suffer because of his absence.

Lest I be thought as merely another family values-clinging religious conservative, there are numerous purely secular studies that can corroborate my assertions through empirical means. If that is your arbiter of morality.

I recall one study in particular that contrasted the differences in play between different economic striations, specifically middle-class suburban kids with those of lower-class inner cities.

One of their key insights was into the consequences of working-class street play, which was dominated more by the need to conform to the group than by the direct instruction of adults, or an “objective” authority.

The study revealed that for those children (of either economic group) who received a comparatively “sheltered” upbringing, rife with clear boundaries of rules as well as expectations for behavior and goals for future success, were not only being inculcated with an ethos but learning a respect for authority as a concept.

A possible implication, in my humble opinion, is that the stability of the household just might be of prime importance, that the family unit is a society within a society. That if this lesser “society” breaks down, a breakdown in larger society is soon to follow.

Perhaps we might think about the challenges of our present culture, especially with regards to our youth, but also with that of the ethics amongst the greater populace.

Does a pattern emerge?

“…O dearest boy, my heart! For better lore would seldom yearn, could I but teach the hundredth part of what from thee I learn…”

I grew up in a household with a father who was present. A man who set clear boundaries and met both defiance as well as disrespect with a severe reprisal. I learned very young that authority is to be respected and is not challenged without dire consequence. I came to understand sacrifice and humility, of strength and perseverance in the face of adversity.

My father is a man, take him for all in all, I have scarcely seen the like of him…  his flaws are numerous, much like his son’s. But he is there for me. There have been plenty of things we’ve disagreed about over the years (and continue thus) but we love each other. I know that he is still there for me if ever I need to turn to him.

If there is a single lesson that I learned from his example it is that.

A father must always be there.


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