Wednesday, May 16, 2007

What Dads Do: A Father's Day Gift

Fathers do not get the credit they deserve in the raising of children. The courts downplay them, the feminists dismiss them, and they media diss them. Even the social scientists who know from their data that dads matter, often can't quite put their finger on why. The kinds of things social science can measure, such as time spent doing different activities and parenting styles, don't necessarily capture what dads do.
Between now and Father's Day, I plan to publish stories that illustrate the many, sometimes intangible, contributions of fathers to child development. Here is one to get the ball rolling.
I met this charming lady at my debate at the University of Virginia. She sent this along this story of how she learned how much her husband contributed to the raising of their children:
In case you haven't heard of the bull elephant tale - this is it in a few words: There were some adolescent orphaned elephants in a forest absolutely creating havoc - killing creatures elephants would not normally kill and the like. They were rounded up and put in with a normal tribe of elephants -w ith extra bulls. - and guess what - they straightened right up and no longer were the bullies of the forest.
My identical twin boys were 15 when their father died. They were always boys full of energy and action. I always said having twin boys was like having a tornado swirling through the house – wherever they were, there was a storm! My twin girls would sit quietly in the corner, playing dolls, until the boys came swirling through and the quiet tea party was over! Anyway, a week after their father died, they announced that they weren't going to live in a house run by a woman. I then realized that my husband had more authority over them when he was sick on the couch, than I did as a fully functioning healthy woman. The subsequent years were chaos, eventually they dropped out of school and joined the National Guard Challenge program – (a teenage boot camp of sorts which I highly recommend for male or female highschool dropouts) – That is where they met their "bull elephants", or should we say – retired Marines!! They both met their matches and completed the program with flying colors, came out with their GEDs, which enabled them to join the US Marine Corps. I now have 20 year old twin Marines – a Corporal and a Lance Corporal, of whom I am very proud. They are fit and disciplined and have seen the mistakes of their past and have goals for a better future. It's been a painful journey, but I'm sure it would have been much more painful if they had not met some bull elephants to rein them in.

Dr J says: what do dads do? They provide authority.
I plan to run as many stories about fathers' contributions to the rearing of children as I can between now and Father's Day. Please send in your stories! If I publish yours, you can show it to your father or husband as a Father's Day present!


Anonymous said...

Every year my husband points out the unequal treatment of mother's day versus father's day. For instance, talk shows/radio shows are giving moms makeovers, discussing "how much my mom means to me", "sacrifices my mom has made", etc. Church services revolve around how you should respect your mother and how husbands should shower their wives with love and kindness. However, when father's day rolls around there's nothing, nada. And, as a matter of fact, we have spent several father's days at our kids' soccer tournaments or dance recitals. Try scheduling something like that on mother's day. There wouldn't be a single kid signed up for next spring's soccer team. I wholeheartedly agree with my husband. It's unequal and unfair. Dads play such an enormous part in children's lives. Ask my daughter, who's now 21, what her favorite childhood memory is and she'll tell you it's the time she was in kindergarten and her dad would meet her at the schoolbus stop after school. (He had been laid off from work and was an at-home dad for several months.) They would go get Slurpees, play video games, go to the park and just have a ball. I love that. I love that my husband had the opportunity to form that special bond. There's nothing more fun than spending one-on-one time with your dad. When I was laid off, my time was spent house cleaning, cooking, or helping with homework - not too many times was it just for fun. I always tell my three daughters that they're lucky because I picked a good dad for them. -Deeta, Centreville, VA

Hollands Opus said...

I also left this at STR website

It is striking that an apologetic for fathers is even necessary. But our media saturated and media informed culture continues to assault men. Have you heard any of the Home Depot ads for Father's day? One features a father saying no to his daughter's request to use his car...until she tells him she needs it to go to Home Depot to get him a gift. Another features a woman asking if Home Depot has something for all kinds of men...techy, creative, etc. Then when the sales rep asks what kind of man her husband is, she replies, "lazy", and the rep recommends a hammock.

Why is this acceptable? Can you imagine a mother's day ad that in any way denigrates mothers? Imagine caricaturing all women in such a way? Also, why is it an insult to buy a woman a vacuum for mother's day, but no problem to buy a man a lawn mower?


Hollands Opus said...

PS Thanks for the good thoughts! It is good to "have another's lips praise you, and not your own". That applies to Father's day too!

Anonymous said...

There are unsung heroes in our midst everyday and they are, Fathers.
Fathers, you work every day to supply food for your family a house over their heads and clothes to wear. You put in overtime to buy tickets for your kids to go to their favorite ball games yet who has ever seen on TV a “HI DAD” sign. Fathers you are the unsung heroes of our day, the unnoticed pillars in our society. What you do for your family you definitely don’t do it for recognition, yet today, no, not even a day, just one brief moment we want to reflect and thank you fathers for living sacrificially for your families.

Our precious media and sitcoms take great joy in maligning manhood and especially fatherhood. As a result we have now reached a place where society never gives fathers the benefit of the doubt, you fathers are always guilty until proven innocent. You didn’t ask for all this, and didn’t do anything to deserve it, yet you live with it. It is unfair, yet with courage and dignity you endure this biased treatment. Fathers we want to honor you today. You face each day with a silent optimism and fatherly strength that somehow God will show you the way, so today we take a moment and thank God for Fathers.

Society has given fathers an incredibly difficult role to fill, yet you are rarely praised for all you do. You are expected to be the supplier, protector, teacher, and always available role model for your family. You have the responsibility to come through at all times and miraculously most of the time you do, yet it is the times that you just can’t do it all that everyone seems to notice. Society expects much from you, yet it is society that has taken away the tools that you need. Society has told your family that you are jerk a buffoon and an overbearing, selfish idiot. When you try to teach you are labeled as being authoritarian and insensitive. When you correct you are said to be a selfish megalomaniac, yet if something does go wrong in the family, fathers, you are always the one to blame. Some how against all odds you still succeed and yet rarely are you appreciated for all that goes right; you are truly the unsung heroes of our day. So today we take a moment to honor you and thank God for Fathers.

Most of your hard work and sacrifice goes unnoticed by modern society and without you much of the good that we take for granted would simply not exist. Fathers you have an incredible impact on your family it is for the most part unappreciated by society yet without it this world would be a terrible place. So to you I take my hat off and say: “You are the man of the hour.” Happy Father’s day!

Anonymous said...


As a father there are moments where your heart screams in often, silent joy.

Screams in joy?


When your child has learned to walk and his or her tiny hand reaches out to take yours for the first time, that is one such moment.

The tiny child is dwarfed by the large man yet trusts, totally, that the large man will not harm it. That the large man simply wants to steady the child. That trust is born of love. A love given and a love received. The simple, yet beautiful moment when your child takes your hand, because it wants too, that is a moment when your heart screams in often silent joy.

Life with a child is a myriad of such moments for the attentive dad and each moment is a wonder all of it’s own.

Coming home from work, exhausted, all dad may want to do is shower, eat and sleep. When he walks through the door and his child runs to him and hugs his legs, the tiredness begins to vanish. As he sweeps the child up in his arms and their eyes meet and smiles are exchanged, love is cemented between them. Another moment of screaming joy has happened.

I remember a child coming to me once with a broken toy. Before he came I heard him speaking with his sister. “Don’t worry,” he said, “Dad will fix it.” As it happened I could not fix the toy, so I scoured the shops and found a new replacement. I handed it over and followed the boy into the living room as he showed his sister.

“See. I told you dad would fix it.”

Confidence and trust in dad. Another moment.

When the child falls from the garden swing and hurts itself and runs to you, crying and in pain; it’s tiny face screwed up in anxiety and wet with tears. You lift the child in strong arms and it buries it’s sobbing self into your chest, smelling that reassuring smell of dad. You carry it to the sink and sit it on the side as you bathe the wounded knee or scraped arm in warm water and apply the stinging disinfectant and a plaster. Feeling every flinch and wince. Speaking softly in soothing tones. Urging bravery.

When it’s over and the child wraps itself around you to be lifted down and runs, laughing, back into the garden to mount the swing again. That is a moment.

Dad has fixed a living toy. A toy, infinitely more precious than anything else. A toy human. Learning to grow, to live, to believe and trust in those around it. Those given the task of caring for it. A toy that will become an adult filled with vague memories and experiences your love has taught it. Each moment, another building block on the road to normal life. Each moment shared together, another spiritual bond that even time can never break. Each moment a screaming, ecstatic, bubbling fountain of joy that makes all the sacrifice of your own time and effort worth while.

For those parents who don’t believe the lies that say teenage kids hate their parents and want to be alone, those teen years are also a blessing filled with wonderful moments.

Standing at the sink with your son, teaching him to shave for the first time. Watching your daughter spin with delight as she tries on the first outfit she bought for herself from the local store. Soothing the anxiety of the child going to “bigger kids” school, or working through a math problem together in the evening, for school homework. Moments of incredibly closeness and intimacy. Moments of sharing in their life as their independence grows. Moments of seeing the love shining in their eyes as they turn to look at you after you did something they find amazing.

Moments are memories that are indestructible as long as you live. Moments are the concrete of life that give you the patience and the ability to drop everything and to run to your children when they need you. To help repair their mistakes. Rebuild their self confidence when they mess up. Dry their frightened tears, even when they are adults. Hug them to your strong chest when they need to know you still care. Moments make being a dad bearable in a world that hates fathers and the very idea of masculinity. A masculinity your child will love, even if a world around it, driven by paranoid ideology, does not.

Though removed from my children’s love and presence by such an ideology when they were very young, I had enough moments with them to keep my spiritual bond with them tight. I wanted more; of course I did, but I am happy to have shared just a few of them. As those moments became memories I treasured them and nothing; not the blind indifference of the state or the furious, exaggerated and bitter hatred of the ex partner could ever steal them from me.

When I was alone and frightened, the recall of those moments would fill me with screaming, silent, overwhelming joy. No matter how dark my situation or how bleak my outlook, it was those moments that made me remember that life is not about what others do to you. It’s about what you can do for them. That what you do, is what creates those moments and if you do it well, they will live in your heart as a source of strength until your last breath has finally melted into the air around you.

I am 54 years old and it’s Fathers Day. I have never received a Fathers Day card before. I had no idea what that felt like. Today I found out, as my son and his family sent me an electronic Fathers Day card. It was a moment of screaming, silent joy. It made me cry with grateful love. It said; “Thanks for being such a great Dad.” It was a moment returned to me for the precious moments we shared when my son was a child. It was a reminder that nothing can, or will ever, break the bonds of love cemented on the day your child first takes your hand.

Cherish your moments.

George Rolph.
A privileged father.
June 2007.

Anonymous said...

Remembering Gina

Many years ago I met a girl of such shocking beauty, my breath stopped every time I looked at her. My heart ached at such a sight as she presented.

She stood, slim and short at about five feet two. Her pixie like features and high cheekbones were framed by a shock of jet black, curly, long hair. Her dark eyes seemed to be tunnels that went deep within her for miles and which radiated joy and happiness. Her mouth was small, with perfectly formed lips. Not too thick and not too thin.

I first saw her in the half light of a disco at the Penventon Hotel in Redruth, Cornwall. When the lights went up in the interval her full and staggering loveliness was revealed in all of it’s glory. As I watched her and tried to summon up the courage to go and speak with her, I was enchanted by her smile and her bird like laugh. It was the realisation that someone of such beauty would soon be surrounded by men seeking her company, that gave me the prod I needed to approach her.

As I approached her on that dance floor, she was laughing with a friend. I watched her head throw itself up and back. As if in slow motion, her hair swirled and tossed like a restless, black sea, of tight curls Her shining eyes filled with the love of life, that I was soon to find, had filled her heart from a very young age.

My heart was hammering with anticipation and not a little fear as I drew up close to her. She did not notice me at first, engrossed as she was in the conversation of her friend. When she did see me beside her she turned and with a friendly smile cocked an inquisitive eye towards me. I took a deep breath.

“I have been watching you. You are the most beautiful girl I have ever seen and I wondered, could I buy you a drink and get to know you better?”

Her face seemed to beam with pleasure at my clumsy words and she nodded. As I turned towards the bar she whispered something to her friend and then turned to follow me.

We drank our drinks and found a quiet spot in the lobby to sit and chat out of the clamour of the brash disco music and crowds.

She was a mine of questions and soon had my whole life story in her heart. I did not want to talk about myself. I wanted to know her; all about her; but her questions forced me to reveal myself in deeper and deeper ways.

As the evening sped by, I got to know as much about her as she was willing to reveal. I found a girl filled with hope who wanted to be a nurse. A girl filled with compassion and excitement. She came from a good and stable family and loved her parents deeply. She was smart, clever, delicate and yet deep in thought and emotion. Every revealing sentence she uttered made my heart fall deeper and deeper for this treasure.

At the end of the evening I took her home by taxi and kissed her on the doorstep of her house. By the time I got home, I was in love, but also deeply troubled. Those fears that took root in my heart that day were to grow irresistible in the coming weeks.

To me, Gina was perfection. There was nothing about her that did not thrill me. I, on the other hand, was somewhat less than perfect and that realisation was the seed of the fears I carried. As those seeds germinated into serious thought within me, my path with Gina became ever more clear.

Gina and I met and talked and kissed and flirted and almost, became physical together. I forced myself not to make love to her, though my whole being screamed in protest. The opportunity was there, often. Gina wanted it to happen, but I could not -- would not -- allow it. I knew if we made love I would not be able to let her go from me, ever. She was just too lovely. Too much of a vision of perfection. Had we made love, I would have proposed within minutes. We would have married within months. I just could not let that happen. I loved her so deeply and in such an all encompassing way that at the slightest provocation I knew I would commit my whole life to her. I also knew, with a deep and crushing sadness, that it would be dangerous for her if I did so.

I was not stable enough and good enough to take someone like Gina and make her happy. I was young, foolish and a fighter. My character was weak and still unformed. My thinking almost entirely focussed on the day at hand and almost never beyond that day. Yet, when thinking of Gina, my thoughts of our future were detailed, deep and entirely pessimistic.

Sometimes I tried to talk myself into seeing a brighter side. I would try to convince myself that my fears were foolish and that I could grow up enough, quickly enough, to become the man Gina needed, but I always snapped out of it and faced reality again. I was just not right for her.

I had kept this thinking to myself. Just having time with Gina was very precious to me and I wanted to enjoy every moment of it. However, I also knew that Gina was falling in love with me and I could not delay telling her the truth of the way I felt much longer.

One damp summers evening we met in the bandstand of a local park. The sun was setting as we held hands and kissed. After a while Gina placed her head against my chest and spoke softly, almost in whispers, of her happiness. I knew the time I had been dreading had arrived.

“Gina. I have something to tell you. Something I don’t want to say because I love you so very much, but it is something I must say because of that love.”

Gina did not reply but I felt her body stiffen slightly against me, as if she was preparing herself for a blow. I remember staring off into the distant trees, searching for the right words to say. I was stoking her delicate face and running my fingers through her long hair and trying to hide the fact that underneath my calm voice a heart was breaking and filled with the fear that I might break her heart also.

As I gave voice to the fears in my heart a tear was stinging in my eyes, but I forced myself to swallow my emotions and forge on. I explained to her that I knew I was not the man she should spend her life with. She needed someone more mature that I. More dedicated to the future. More grown up and responsible than I was capable of being at that time. I told her of the long hours of agonising I had gone through about this matter. How incredibly painful it was for me face these things and how, because she was so very perfect, I could not dare risk leading her into a life where my own foolishness might hurt her. I ended my sad little speech by telling her that she should walk away now and not look back and that I would do the same.

For a long time she said nothing. Her head remained against my chest and the gentle heaving of her body told me she was crying. I dared not look down at her. I knew if I did I would weaken and cast all I had just said to the wind. After a long time, maybe a little more than twenty minutes, she stood and slowly walked away. Her last words buried themselves deeply into my heart.

“Thank you George. I love you.”

I also stood and turned away. Two people, in love, but destined never to let that love grow, walking into the dusk in different directions.

About five years later I saw Gina again when I was hospitalised in Truro General Hospital. Now a nurse and happily married with children of her own.

We met only briefly and both of us were shocked to see each other again. She was still wonderfully beautiful and motherhood had only increased the wonder of that beauty.

She asked me how I was and I asked her. Then, as we parted again for the final time, she took my hand, squeezed it gently and said, “Thank you George. Thank you so much.”

I kissed her hand and said nothing. Instead, I watched her walk down that long hospital corridor in her crisp uniform and wondered, briefly, if I was right to let her go. Then, with a kind of internal shudder, it finally settled into my heart that I had done the right thing and that it was good to have done it.

Strangely, I also realised that on that evening under the bandstand in the park I had grown up and become a man. Even though my life was a long way from being stable, it’s maturity seeds were planted on that day.

Wherever you are now Gina. I wish you now, as I ever have, every happiness and all the joy you deserve. For a short time, I shared in your beauty and you gave me memories I shall treasure forever.

Thank you.

George Rolph.