June 15, 2008
Let me wish you a happy father’s day. I expect this letter will arrive a little late, but no matter. Just as some people proclaim that every day should be Christmas, perhaps every day we should honor our parents, especially our fathers. In a world where the inherent qualities of being a man are continually challenged, the role of father has changed dramatically in the last half century. No longer do we live most of our lives in small villages, drawing our existence from the lands around us. We now are interconnected across the globe. Citizens of the modern, industrialized world may live their lives with little real connection to their heritage or the planet upon which they live.
There is some risk in disconnecting so completely from our past. We put at hazard the values and principals which allowed us to develop a civil and respectful society. The ignorance of our history will, in fact, doom us to repeat it. This oft bandied cliché has more truth within it than it is credited. And so to parents fall the responsibility of imparting the best aspects of history and experience while avoiding those darker elements which lurk within all human existence. They take on this task with the hope that their children will emerge better, smarter and more honest than themselves.
For a mother, the roles have been clear since the dawn of time. It is one which has changed little and is likely to remain steady for time to come. For a father, the duty is not as evident. And yet it is as unshakably continuous as the role of a mother. It is my belief that the primary role of the father is to impart those values which encourage integrity, strength and mercy. It is the place of the father to encourage self-reliance in his children and an understanding of the events and experiences which preceded their entry into the world.
Parents, by virtue of being so, have engaged in a compact requiring sacrifice. They have, knowingly or not, undertaken a task from which there is no release. Some do not understand this great gift and burden. The prospect of shepherding a young life into the fullness of adulthood does not always reveal itself to a parent as an honor. It is viewed as an unwelcome task or trivialized by those who fail to grasp the awesome obligation inherent in raising children.
My childhood was not viewed trivially. I was blessed by parents who understood and acted in the best interests of their children and honored the commitment to their own virtues. In particular, my father demonstrated to me the value of sacrifice, honesty and courage. It was he who imparted to me a respect for history along with a passion to improve upon it. All of this was done with love. It was an unconditional love I felt and shared among my brother and sister. It is a love which endures regardless of the occasional hardships life offers us all.
We tend to romanticize our memories about the past. It is natural to want to believe the best about the things which comprise who we are. And we are, indeed, the product of our experiences. Somehow we become the sum of all the people whom we have known. It is, therefore, imperative that we look for the best in those people in order to add the best to ourselves. And thus, each parent must offer their best to their children. Those children will carry with them whatever is offered, good or bad.
I feel that obligation as I look at each of my sons. I ask myself each day if I am offering them my best. As a father I wonder what lessons they are learning from me. Will they be kind? Honest? Strong? Will they value knowledge and respect others, simply for their humanity? Will they value and understand sacrifice? If I can impart to them only a little of what my father gave to me, then I know they will be well. And I will know that I have been a good father, as my father was before me.