Saturday, June 14, the day before Father’s Day.
About 10:15 in the morning. I’m at my desk at
home paying bills, but feeling guilty about not working
on the next column for this magazine, a column which
is now over two weeks late. I don’t have a topic
that particularly interests me, so bill paying is
undoubtedly a way of avoiding the blank page (or screen)
that will soon confront me.
The radio is tuned to NPR, the volume low, as I
wait for Weekend Edition to end and Car Talk to
begin. My attention is slowly drawn to a woman talking
about her father. I half listen to her brief recollection
of perhaps 30 or 45 seconds. She was followed by
a male voice. I turned the volume up to hear better.
Another female voice; another recollection of about
forty-five seconds. As my anger grew, I put down
my pen altogether and listened intently. There followed
another six or eight reminiscences, all about the
same length and all but one talking about how thoughtless,
harsh, mean, and evil their father had been. Happy
Father’s Day, indeed.
Do nine out of ten people believe they had rotten
fathers? Or, as I hope and suspect, was this presentation
simply slanted to grab the listener’s attention,
as it did mine? I did not expect such imbalance
from NPR, but I am accustomed to it in contemporary
‘serious’ fiction. When was the last
time you read an Oprah recommendation that treated
fathers as honest and decent human beings?
I am not suggesting that we ought to hide the
evils that have occurred within the family. Our
society is more open than it has ever been to what
happens within families. This openness has been
an extraordinary gain for all of us. Bad behavior
has been exposed and dealt with forcefully. This
is all to the good.
Yet I fret about the contemporary view of men portrayed
by the media. It is one thing to expose abuses and
correct them; it is something altogether different
to pound away continuously on the bad side.
If I had a wish for Father’s Day, it would
be that we hear more stories that include the kind
of men I have known and whom we are trying to educate
at Wabash. Men who care deeply about their families,
who work hard for and with them, who are thoughtful
in their relationships, and who make whatever sacrifices
they must to assure the family’s well being.
We need to expose and rectify evil wherever it occurs,
but we also need models and examples of how to live
I have heard lots of Wabash stories, for I enjoy
collecting them, and I know at least part of my
own father’s story. He boarded the train every
morning at 7:00 and returned home 12 hours later,
working hard in a city he did not like and at a
job that did not bring him the satisfaction and
rewards he had once hoped for. A child of the Great
Depression, he was not about to risk his family’s
security for something that might be a bit more
fun. We always had enough, but never a lot, and
I sometimes thought that he simply could not manage
money well, for we should have been a lot more comfortable.
Years later I would learn from my uncle that my
father and mother had supported a relative’s
family, whose father had left them. My dad never
complained about that drain and never mentioned
it to his own children.
If you have read such stories recently, I would
very much like to hear from you. Meanwhile, listen
carefully the next time you hear fathers described
on television, radio, or film and let me know if
you, too, believe that we need a better balance.