On Psychology

Jewish World Review June 17 / 23 Iyar, 5758

Dr. Wade Horn

Ode to a dad
who stuck around

By Dr. Wade F. Horn

MY FATHER WAS A GREAT DAD. I didn't always think so, of course. When I was growing up, I mostly thought of him as an overbearing, autocratic, stick-in-the-mud whose main mission in life was to make mine miserable.

But I have since come to realize he had one great quality. He was there. Someone once said ninety percent of life is just showing up. My dad showed up.

Every morning of my life when I woke up, my dad was there. Not some nearby guy hoping to serve as an occasional "male role model," but a real life, in-the-home, love-the-mother father. The idea that someday my dad might be living somewhere else was as foreign as the notion that someday I would grow gills and breath water. It just wasn't going to happen.

And I was right.

But my dad did more than show up. I've since come to understand just how many things my dad did right. Not everything, of course. Just the most important things.

He was loving and faithful to his wife. He provided for his family. He encouraged us to do our best. He enforced the rules. And he was there when his kids needed him most.

Once, when I was eighteen, in college and convinced that I was now a fully competent adult, I signed a lease with a group of friends for a house rental. Shortly afterwards, we found out we had signed a lease basically giving the landlord the right to take all our money, our first born children, and all of our cars. Frantic, we called up the landlord to say we didn't want the house after all. Soon he was phoning me at home with threats of all sorts of legal action.

I was petrified. Then my dad stepped in.

A few quick words of legalize over the phone from my dad, and we never heard from that landlord again. We even got to keep our cars. It was at that moment that I realized that my dad might actually know a thing or two after all.

Like how to keep a marriage together despite the inevitable bumps in the road. How to approach life as an adventure, daring to take a risk or two. And how to rear children to become responsible adults. When he said, as he often did when dispensing a punishment, "this is for your own good," I now know that to have been true.

I don't know what's going to happen to all the kids today growing up disconnected from their dads. I wish I could be more optimistic and assert that it doesn't really matter, that the "village" can raise children just fine, thank you, without the presence of fathers.

But every time I read in the newspaper of another schoolyard shooting or overhear another foul mouth youth in the mall, I can't help but wonder: "Where are the dads?"

Where indeed.

Some are out on the golf course perfecting their golf swing, instead of at home swinging their kids around. Others are sitting on the couch watching television, instead of keeping a watchful eye on their kids. Too many -- 24 million too many -- don't even live in the same homes as their kids.

I know that there are millions of fathers who, like my dad, wake up every day and without fanfare undertake the indispensable work of involved, committed and responsible fathering.

For them, we should be thankful. I know their kids are -- or will be someday.

But there are millions more who are disconnected from their kids. For some, it is a matter of choice -- putting work before family or personal fulfillment before family obligations.

For others, their absence is enforced by a court system that cares much about the enforcement of his role as economic provider, but little about helping him fulfill his role as nurturer, disciplinarian, moral instructor, teacher and coach.

Either way, their children suffer. And in the end, so do they. For ten years from now, few fathers will regret having missed a particular episode of Seinfeld. Far to many will have regretted missing a particular episode of their kids lives.

My dad understood all of this. He didn't preach it. He just lived it. And in doing so he raised six sons and one daughter, all of whom are now married with children. None are divorced. None produced a child out-of-wedlock. None are drug addicts, alcoholics or bums. I'd say that's a pretty good legacy for a dad.

Happy Fathers' Day, dad. Thanks for being there. Thanks for showing me what it means to be a great dad.

JWR contributor Dr. Wade F. Horn is President of the National Fatherhood Initiative and co-author of The Better Homes and Gardens New Father Book. Send your question about dads, children or fatherhood to him C/O JWR


6/11/98: No-fault divorce and the partner who "wants to make things work"
5/28/98: The oys and JOYS of fatherhood
5/21/98: When child-support becomes a 'catch-22'
5/15/98: Why ‘shacking-up' for marriage's sake fails
5/6/98: Collision with a pathetic reality
4/26/98: It's time parents learned to 'Just Say No!'

© 1998, Dr. Wade F. Horn