Published Nov. 22, 1995
Father’s Day isn’t until June, and the Million Man March is weeks in the past, but it’s never a bad time to think about being dads. William Raspberry, a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist, raised the issue of fatherhood last week. His theme was how difficult it has become to figure out the role of fathers in America.
Raspberry cited the impact of “gender blending” on the traditional roles of fathers, like bread-winner and occupational model, etc. He posed excellent questions but offered no answers. Maybe the proper conclusion is that there is no longer a gender-specific role for dads, but that surely doesn’t mean that fathers are irrelevant. After all, a million men can’t be totally wrong.
So I’ve been thinking about the role of fathers and what we uniquely can do for our children.
Fathers can teach their children the value of play and fun. It’s true that boys will be boys, so why shouldn’t kids learn that occasionally it’s OK to be goofy, and to learn it from someone other than Jim Carrey? My son and I just returned from a mostly-male, college football reunion weekend, during which he saw about a year’s worth of childishness. Now, of course, it’s my responsibility to teach him the old saw about “a time and place for everything.”
As the nearly-exclusive perpetrators of society’s violent acts, men can teach their children — especially their sons — that violence is always a last resort and never a satisfactory one. We can drive at moderate speeds and resist the temptation to respond in kind when we’re cut off, passed, or otherwise have our manhood threatened. We can laugh in the faces of macho men.
I have a collection of ideas I want to teach my son. They are values a mother could promote as well, but somehow I think boys especially will be more receptive to suggestions coming from someone who’s not also preaching about vegetables and toothbrushes. In any event, here are some of them:
Always maintain a presumption of equality toward others. Everyone is not your equal, but assume they are until they’ve demonstrated their inferiority. Also, assume everyone has something to offer, even if you find few who have anything worthy of receiving.
Always stand up for what you believe, but don’t believe you must convince others in order to validate your ideas. Everyone else could be wrong.
At least once in your life, discover how it feels to devote yourself totally to one activity, but don’t think you can live a truly fulfilling life that way.
If you have the luxury of time and financial security, spread yourself intellectually thin.
Every so often do something that is a complete waste of time. It may be some of the best time you’ll ever spend.
Find a spiritual side of life that resonates within you. You can’t inherit it, and you can’t buy it. Avoid anyone who is marketing it.
Try to be the kind of person you would want to dine with every night.
Approach everything you do as if you’re writing the history of your life. If it’s a chapter you wouldn’t want anyone to read, don’t live it.
Don’t sweat the small stuff. Those who do either don’t have any large stuff or don’t know the difference, which is far worse.
Once every few years, watch “Dead Poets Society.”
We can teach our children that striking out is bad only if it keeps them from swinging. Tell them Babe Ruth struck out more than he homered. Then explain who he was.
More than anything, we dads can let our sons, the next fathers, see how much pure pleasure we get from being parents. We can show them how proud we are of them, admit it when they do things better than we did or can, and tell them how much we enjoy simply being with them.
If we do all these things, maybe our kids will realize that being a dad is cool, and maybe that we are too. •
U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, founder of LEO, has represented Kentucky’s 3rd Congressional District since 2007 and is now chairman of the House Budget Committee.