From Center Hall

By Andrew T. Ford
It is 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 life well.

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.