Fathers and Sons
Posted on June 15, 2008
And so it goes.
Fathers beget sons who beget their own sons. Fathers die, and sons are left to either carry on their legacy or to reject it out of hand.
This Father’s Day is especially poignant for many in Washington, because of the passing of Tim Russert.
But every Father’s Day is poignant for fathers and their sons. Every son wrestles with their father’s example, hoping to improve it somehow, hoping to make their dads proud.
And every father wants the best for their sons, but they are also sons, trying to live up to their own father’s expectations.
Russert’s book put an extra spotlight on the tangled relationship between fathers and son. Russert clearly loved his father, Big Russ, but he had no interest in following in his father’s footsteps. What he learned from his father was not a profession, but a way of living with respect and dignity.
For Tiger Woods, who made a long putt to tie Rocco Mediate today on the 18th hole of the U.S. Open, Father’s Day is especially important, because his father drove him to his success. While Earl Woods was not a professional golfer, he was Tiger’s mentor and coach. Today was Tiger’s first Father’s Day as a dad, and he played all 18 holes with a painful knee injury, but you can bet that he wanted to make his father proud, and so he carried on.
The tangled relationship between fathers and son has played large role on the Presidential stage. George W. Bush, who became only the second son to follow his father to the White House, has tried to improve upon his father’s legacy. As determined as he was to finish the job left undone by his father in Iraq, he was even more determined to not fall victim to the same fate of his father politically, be a one-term President.
But he will leave office one of the most unpopular President’s in our nation’s history, with many of his father’s closest advisors nodding in disapproval. It is unclear what old dad really thinks.
The top contenders for the White House in this election have their own tangled relationships with their fathers. John McCain followed in his father’s footsteps by attending the Naval Academy, but he rebelled while he was there, finishing almost at the bottom of his class. When he was held in confinement at the Hanoi Hilton, his father privately worried about the fate of his son, but publicly kept stoic silence.
Barack Obama barely knew his father, who gave his last name, and perhaps his burning ambition, but not much of an example. Obama Sr. left the family when little Barack was two, and his mother was left with the responsibility to raise him.
Today, Barack Obama gave a speech about the need for fathers to play a bigger role in society, especially in the African-American community. It was a good speech and needed to be said, and Obama is the right messenger.
The National Fatherhood Initiative points out that having a father who live at home is better than not having one, no matter how complicated the relationship can become. Children in father-absent homes are five times more likely to be poor. In 2002, 7.8 percent of children in married-couple families were living in poverty compared to 38.4 percent of children in female-householder families. A child with a nonresident father is 54 percent more likely to be poorer than his or her father.
So fatherhood is important.
From my own personal experience, being a dad is the best job I have ever had. Seeing my son climb on top of me, I think about how I used to climb on top on my dad. And so it goes.
Like Tim Russert, I am very proud of my dad, and hope that he is proud of me. He taught me how to live my life, and while I didn’t follow his example exactly, I learned enough to make my way in a world that can be cruel and tough.
While boys love their mothers more, they learn how to live their lives from their fathers, if they have them.