A Fatherly Manner
June 19, 2017
This column by ACRU Senior Fellow Robert Knight was published June 18, 2017 by The Washington Times.
It’s Father’s Day, or the day after, depending on when you read this.
Statistics about the decline of fatherhood are very sobering, but I’m not here to bring readers down or to make people feel bad if they did not have or don’t have a happy family life.
Our culture, however, has gone overboard to devalue fathers in a mad quest to impose a social order free from natural, God-given differences. The wreckage emanating from that viewpoint is all around us, with many children deprived of having a father in the home. Or even a grandfather. Or at least a man who isn’t wearing a dress and high heels.
The good news is that despite their best efforts, our cultural overseers will never fully erase the fact that fathers provide certain things that mothers don’t and vice versa. Nature and nature’s God are not easily thwarted.
Every time Father’s Day rolls around, I think of the many things my Dad taught me and my siblings, from the value of integrity and how to be a good husband and father, to seeing a job through regardless of difficulty.
In his “reality discipline” book, Making Children Mind Without Losing Yours, Kevin Leman argues that the No. 1 goal for fathers (and mothers, too) should not be to raise a child who is happy but a child who is responsible. That means “letting the little buzzards fall” now and then so that they can understand that actions, or lack of them, have consequences. We’re talking here about unpleasant outcomes, not safety risks.
Given the chaos on today’s campuses, replete with “safe spaces” stocked with playdough and coloring books for “snowflakes” who collapse upon hearing opinions that differ from theirs, one gets the impression that all too many parents have opted to make junior “happy” rather than responsible.
My own dad taught me early on that actions had consequences and that if a chore was not done, it was not going to go away on its own. On the lighter side, my dad taught other valuable things as well, such as table manners, which was an ongoing struggle.
There I’d be, chomping on a hamburger with my other arm resting on the table, and suddenly I had that feeling of being watched. Critically.
Looking up, I was not at all surprised to see my Dad with a wry grin, launching what is now called a teaching moment. Looking at my plate, he’d ask, “Why don’t you put your foot in it?” We all laughed, but the point was taken.
My mom, God bless her, would never resort to such tactics, lest it hurt my widdle feelings.
My grandparents also helped train us, partly by having us read a picture book and poem about the nefarious Goop family. One of the stanzas goes like this:
The Goops they lick their fingers,
And the Goops they lick their knives;
They spill their broth on the tablecloth —
Oh, they lead disgusting lives!
Wow. Who wants to be disgusting? Now that I have children and grandchildren, I’m trying to employ some of the same tactics, so far with mixed results. The adult kids have mastered basic table manners, but they are also primed to catch me whenever I violate my own standards. Who would have thought they would become such talented mimics?
What goes around comes around, mostly. Whenever I visit my dad, who is now 93 and living the good life in Maine, I am self-conscious of my own manners, but also alert to his deportment in hopes of catching him in a violation. It never happens. He’s the kind of guy who eats cupcakes with a knife and fork, with pinky extended. Okay, I’m kidding about the pinky. He is, after all, a decorated war veteran, husband and father, faithful churchgoer, patriotic citizen and all man.
One morning, when my daughter was about 8 years old, I became acutely aware of how much children observe. She suddenly picked up a newspaper in one hand, a coffee cup in the other, and declared in a loud voice, “This is Daddy: ‘The liberals are wrong!’”
My wife grew wide-eyed and then howled. So did I. My daughter had nailed it.
For the record, I still think liberals are wrong about a lot of things. A big one is diminishing the importance of fathers in their children’s lives.