"How do we measure the effectiveness of the liberal arts? Perhaps a good measure would be whether or not we've turned out
good fathers."

John Agresto,
former president of St. John's College, speaking with faculty as inaugural lecturer for the Wabash Center of Inquiry in the Liberal Arts.


Winter/Spring 2001

From the Editor

A stillborn delivery at six months' gestation is the cruelest irony I've ever witnessed. My wife was jabbed with a Pitocin drip to induce contractions, and the pains of labor lasted several hours. A nurse explained that weĠd need to pick up a prescription to dry up the milk Shashi's body was already preparing to nourish the baby. The rituals of a live birth were present to such detail that an aide inadvertently brought in the fetal heartbeat monitor. The doctor scowled over his mask and waved her off. Then he told my wife to "push," just as weĠd seen in the video during the childbirth class.

A year later, our daughter would be born, and Shashi would sit up with arms outstretched, exulting through tears, "My baby, my baby."

But on this April day, our son Francis John was delivered into a heavy silence. The attending nurse lifted his body to us, and Shashi gazed at him, placing her hand affectionately on his head. With transcendent grace, after six months of fighting her own severe illness to keep her baby alive, she whispered, "Good-bye, my little boy."

I stood there shaking, angry and powerless, willing myself to touch the perfectly formed but tiny body. I don't remember if I did. I wish I had been able to cup my hand around his head, to say good-bye, to ask his forgiveness for not protecting him.

I was walking beside the gurney on the way to recovery when a nurse in blue scrubs, whose name I don't recall but whose voice is with me still, waved me toward a nearby doorway.

"Dad," she said. "We need you." I thought she must have meant someone else. I instinctively looked around, half-believing and hoping I'd see my own father.

"Dad," she repeated. I accepted her word as power. And I fulfilled my first paternal duties, approving a partial autopsy and finding a funeral home to prepare Francis for burial.

Since that day, I've succeeded at a few things, failed at a few more, but no vocation has ever stung so hard yet felt so true as that of "father." No greeting ever sounded better than "Daddy." And no moment has brought a deeper peace than the vigils I kept while leaning on the rail of my daughter's crib when we first brought her home, one year and ten days after her brother's death. I would listen to her breathe, thankful for the reassuring rhythm. That was all in the world that mattered.

Our fathers shaped all of us, and fatherhood defines many of us. Sometimes a father's absence forms us, and sometimes fatherhood is an adopted role. At Wabash, professors and other mentors often find themselves not only teaching students, but also walking them through rites of passage. The Wabash men and contributors to this issue of Wabash Magazine explore these aspects of fatherhood and more in the following pages. Consider it an early gift--or reminder--for Father's Day.

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