I was struck yesterday as I watched President Obama take a full afternoon, something you rarely see the President of the United States ever do, and dedicate it to an event designed to promote the importance of fatherhood in our society. I totally applaud his passion regarding this issue and the importance of visible leadership, reminding generations of men of the both the responsibility and joy of fatherhood.
The reason I bring this up is I am touched, and totally in sync with our President on this issue, despite my other glaring differences with him on other policy, as it mirrors my own passion for the importance of fatherhood in our society. Like the President, my passion on this is driven by the absence of my own father for a good chunk of my life, in my case due to his death when I was 12 from melanoma when he was only 41 years old.
Until my father died, and his illness was mercifully short although it seemed like ages at that time in my life, I lived an almost ideal childhood in a little village in Western, NY that I like to dub "the town that time forgot". It was very much a throw back to a simpler time, that despite the flaws of that era and humanity, created a safe, supportive and stable place for a boy to grow up.
While the President did a superb job of discussing the role of fathers to be a part of their children's lives, what struck me most was his description of the "hole that can not be filled" by even the most devoted mother or grandparents, once that father is gone. I don't speak about it often, but there is no question that hole is there for all of us that had absent fathers and as I've told people before, many a successful man has been made due to the fire inside us to please that absent father of ours through our efforts in life after they left us.
I was immensely fortunate to have had outstanding men that helped to fill that gap through coaching, mentoring and guidance. My grandfather, track coaches, father in laws, college professors, old time lawyers and insurance professionals, my pastors and elders at various churchs and others all took time, effort and concern to smooth out my rough edges and inspire me to become something bigger then I saw in myself.
Which brings me to my point, which is how we evolve as men from that young man who was so wonderfully assisted by a score of surrogate fathers and mentors over the years as I was, to the man that I am now that woke up one day and realized that but for one, all of my mentors, coaches, professors and leaders have passed away. There is this lonely void that I once again feel as one by one these decent, honorable and generally unrecognized and unremarkable men in the eyes of the world slip away.
These were men who had families, children, commitments and then decided to do even more and involve themselves in coaching, their church, professional associations and informal mentoring to reach out and help young men who also had "that hole in their heart that couldn't be filled." They went above and beyond simply showing up, but committed themselves to helping others in ways they probably couldn't comprehend until years later.
At some point we men need to do as the President is doing and use the platforms that we have at our disposal to not only tell our own story to some degree, but provide helpful assistance and models to young men, young fathers and others who need that assurance that they to can be bigger then they may dream they are capable of. I personally have found that not only do we help those young men immeasurably, but in my case it fills that hole that never goes away to connect into the lives of young men and women and assist them in their careers, lives and aspirations. It doesn't have to be anything grandiose or spectacular and you don't have to be perfect to start, you just need to look around and sense who is struggling a bit and offer what you have to help guide them forward and let them know they aren't quite so alone in the journey.
I don't speak about it often but I was recognized by the Boys and Girls of Scottsdale as the recipient of their Man of the Year last year as a result of the 20 years spent coaching and mentoring in the various branches around the city. It was one of the few times in my life where I was speechless, not due to lack of words but as a result of the tears and loss of composure when I attempted to share my thoughts. What flooded into my mind was all the men who had coached and mentored me, their impact on my life and the realization that because of their example they were as much a part of what I had done for 20 years as I was, and I could hardly talk about it then or type it now.
We all have choices we make as fathers and I would humbly suggest the following:
If your father was absent, make a conscious choice to be there for your son's and daughters regardless of your relationship with their mother. Elevate yourself to the greatest privilege we get to experience in life which is that of being an active, involved, caring father.
Attend your children's games, recitals, plays and competitions with out fail. Nothing hurts worse then looking up in the stands and seeing an empty spot where your father could be sitting.
If you are now at an age where you are a "seasoned pro" in your profession or community, take a look around your church, synagogue, office, law firm, etc, and see if there is a young man or woman that could benefit from your friendship and support.
It is often times a very lonely world and it is the role of fathers in our society to help make it a little less lonely and scary for others.
Good job Mr. President, I'm sure your event helped a lot of young men and women. Enjoy your Fathers Day.