Fathers With Wisdom?

"The most important thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother" - Father Theodore Hesburgh, longtime president of the University of Notre Dame.

Last Father’s Day my son gave me a gift of Tim Russert’s book Wisdom of Our Fathers the content of which as described by the publisher reads:

What does it really mean to be a good father? What did your father tell you, that has stayed with you throughout your life? Was there a lesson from him, a story, or a moment that helped to make you who you are? Is there a special memory that makes you smile when you least expect it?

The book records what daughters and sons wanted to tell Russert about their own fathers, most of whom were not super dads or heroes but ordinary men who were remembered and cherished for some of their best moments- of advice, tenderness, strength, honor, discipline, and occasional eccentricity. This book is for all fathers, young or old, who can learn from the men in these pages how to get it right, and to understand that sometimes it is the little gestures that can makethe big difference for your child. For some in this book, the appreciation came later than they would have liked. But as Wisdom of Our Fathers reminds us, it is never too late to embrace it.

A chapter in the book deals with stories of forgiveness. One of these entitled ‘The Shell Game’ reads as follows:

"Every birthday or Father's Day, I would buy Dad a bag of white pistachio nuts. We'd devour them together and then play tricks on each other by hiding bags of shells where the uneaten nuts used to be. How delighted he was when I fell for it and reached in to find a handful of shells! And I was delighted when I could trick him back.

The day before my 25th birthday, my father disowned me. We had a major falling out at Disney World, where dad and his new wife were treating us to a week's vacation. Falling out: a strange way to describe an argument but an apt way to describe the sensation of losing one's balance, of being catapulted out of childhood into a new and more frightening vision of the world and one's place in it. We were about to head off to a dinner show, the Hoop-Dee-Doo review, when Dad declared that my husband and I were "No longer part of this family unit." He summarily kicked us out of the hotel at Fort Wilderness village. It's hard to find a car to rent at Disney World on Christmas day.

Later that week, we got home to a letter from Dad. "Please take your husband's last name," he wrote. "You don't deserve to carry mine." For months my dreams were vivid and violent. I dreamed I would pay him back every penny he ever spent raising me. Maybe that would unmake him my father. Then I dreamed I would take a hammer to his kneecaps.

I thought of him almost daily, my anger mixed with a yearning for reconciliation. Years passed with no contact until my first child was born. As a new parent, I could not imagine feeling anger and disappointment sharp enough, or pervasive enough, to ever cast off my child. How could Dad have done so, felt so? How wounded my father must be, how damaged his soul from his own father's stern disapproval that never abated before he died. When nursing my son one day, I decided I would reach out to him.

On Father's Day I mailed him a bag of pistachios. I sent no note. He sent me back the empty shells. No note. But I smiled, I imagine he did to.

What lesson did you receive from your father and if you are a father what lesson do you think you passed on to your children?

Posted July 16, 2007


Stan Preston said...

My father was quite an educated man and I think in some ways he was much more intellectually inclined than me.

I was troubled by this growing up as a young teenager as he seemed to know everything that was right for me and though I disagreed with some of his decisions I felt I could do nothing about it.

Now as an adult I realize that he was trying to do the best for me as he saw it. He loved me (as he still does) and obviously was trying to do the best in bringing me into adulthood as he saw it.

I resented him somewhat while I was growing up but now my resentment has disappeared as I have come to know him as an adult and to respect him for the person that he is. I suspect that I am going to make the same “mistakes” in raising my own children; after all one has to learn parenting as one goes along!

I agree with the opening comment of the thread that one of the most important things a father does is to love one’s mother. I have never heard an angry word from my father towards my mother even if she gets upset at something with him sometimes. This is a great strength in my father and I’m sure it is a great element in their great marriage and in their pride and happiness they have in their children and grandchildren.

And that includes me!


James Carnaghan said...

My father was a silent man. He would come home from work say “hello” and that was the sum total of the conversation with my mother for the rest of the evening. They had a good relationship as far as I could tell as a child so maybe they communicated in some other way.

Strangely, when we had guests my father would chat and laugh and enter into the conversation with energy. Also if there were small children around he would play with them and take them outside for walks but when they left the silence descended again.

He lived into his nineties and this pattern never changed.


Derek Bell said...

My dad ran a grocery business which was his whole life. He had no education and was completely devoid of words in any social occasion but he was immensely successful in a financial sense. We lived in a mansion surrounded by the most expensive cars for my mother and my siblings. Despite a life threatening illness we could not persuade him to retire or take annual vacations and he found it extremely difficult to let me take the business in the direction that I wanted even though I had been working with him for over 15 years.

He was very proud of the fact that he came from poverty pitied as a young man by others who were going off to college for university degrees and presumably very successful professional lives, yet he became the most successful of the lot.

I realize that he is happy in the world that he has created for himself but I regret that he could not have let the reins of the business go when he was still in reasonably good health to enjoy some travel or other relaxing activities with my mother and their friends. Now I fear it is getting too late and I only wish that he would listen to the advice of a son who loves him and learn to see me as his peer and companion.

D. Bell

Arthur McCorry said...

Timid is how I remember him. A man of obvious intelligence yet with no confidence in himself and always terrified of the future.

He was musically gifted and as a child I remember his patience with me as I struggled to learn how to play the piano. His parents probably had a minimal education and may not even have been able to read or write and this probably accounted for his own absence of self confidence.

A lot of this rubbed off on me. I went through life always believing that I was smarter and more capable than others but my own inner sense of confidence was too low for me to achieve what I think was my full potential.

The bright side of the story is that my own children apparently saw me as a very confident person and did not detect my inner fears and insecurities. They have all gone on to very successful careers and marriages and so I am glad that I was the transition for them between the introverted stuggles of my father to their own extroverted personalities.


Jim Fletcher said...

My siblings and I have a great relationship with our father. He brought us up with a strong Christian belief, not by force but by example. He always planned our summer vacations to do things that children would enjoy and as an avid tennis player he involved us in every aspect of the game to the extent that we now play with him regularly.

He was, and is, an ideal father, a friend, and as Stan said in an earlier comment he continues to love and revere my mother.

Bless you, Dad

Jim Fletcher