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The Way of BeautyFathers and Their Families

From the time of Aristotle, men have reflected on the role of fathers and their family relationships.  The philosopher writes that the family is society’s basic social unit.  

Data about Fatherhood

The National Center for Fathering, a non-partisan agency, reports some appalling facts about fatherlessness in America.  More than twenty million children live in a home without the physical presence of a father—four out of ten.  Half of these children do not see them.  

Millions more have fathers who are physically present but emotionally absent.  These numbers have increased with the growing number of premarital births and a continuing high divorce rate.  Divorce is no longer the main reason that children do not grow up with both of their parents.  In recent years, divorce has declined, but single parenthood has increased.

As yet, we do not have firm numbers on those fathers who are addicted to drugs, alcohol, gambling, or pornography.  Today there are more idle or unemployed men than at any time since the Great Depression.  This is partly due to issues in the work place.

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If fatherlessness were classified as a disease, it would be an epidemic and a national emergency.  Given President Obama’s own family background, having grown up without his father, Mr. Obama is the pre-eminent person who can address this issue.  

Men with Women and Children

While “super-Dads” exceed our expectations, derelict fathers degrade their vocation.  In more than sixty-per cent of TV’s programming, fathers are portrayed as uninvolved, incompetent, stupid, and unnecessary.   Discussions about women having it all are a fallacy.  At least not all at once.  Most women cannot conceive children, give birth to them, raise them, and work outside the home without the presence of a loving father in the home.  It must be said however that single mothers try doing it all the time.  

Studies show that fathers who put family first are usually good husbands and fathers.

The Odyssey:  Telemachus

In Homer’s Odyssey, there is a touching moment between Odysseus (Lat. Ulysses) and his son Telemachus, who is determined to find out what has happened to his father who left home to fight in the Trojan War when his son was still a baby.  Telemachus has longed for a lifelong relationship with his father.  

In Crisis of Manliness by Walter Newell observes that too many boys today are like Telemachus who long for a father who will nurture and guide them through a hard world.

More in The Way of Beauty

Many boys are from broken homes and are forced at a very early age to be their mother’s protector from oppressive men.  At the same time, they struggle to bring themselves up in a way that would make their absent fathers proud of them.  Each year Newell tells his students the story of Telemachus and his father in Homer’s Odyssey. As the narrative advances, the classroom grows silent because his students realize that they are Telemachus.  Part of the dialogue is given below:

“Sir,” said Telemachus, “as regards your question, so long as my father was here it was well with us and with the house, but the gods, in their displeasure, have willed it otherwise and have hidden him away more closely than mortal man was ever yet hidden. . . .”

“And Ulysses said, “I am no god; why should you take me for one?  I am your father on whose account you grieve and suffer so much at the hands of lawless men.”

As Telemachus spoke, Ulysses kissed his son, and a tear fell from his cheek on to the ground, for he had restrained all tears till now.  But Telemachus could not yet believe that it was his father, and said:

“You are not my father.  You are some god who is flattering me with vain hopes that I may grieve the more hereafter.  No mortal man could of himself contrive to do as you have been doing and make yourself old and young at a moment’s notice, unless a god were with him.  A second ago, you were old and all in rags, and now you are like some god come down from heaven.” [Ulysses has changed cleaned himself up and changed his clothes to make himself look presentable.]

Ulysses answered, “Telemachus, you ought not to be so immeasurably astonished at my being really here.  There is no other Ulysses who will come hereafter.  Such as I am, it is I, your father], who after long wandering and much hardship have got home in the twentieth year to my own country. I will tell you the truth, my son.”

As Ulysses spoke, he sat down, and Telemachus threw his arms about his father and wept. (William Bennett’s, The Book of Man: Readings on the Path to Manhood, 365-68)

Thomas Jefferson to His Son, Thomas Jefferson Smith: “A Decalogue of Canons for Observations in Practical Life”

1.     Never put off till tomorrow what you can do today.

2.    Never trouble another for what you can do yourself.

3.    Never spend your money before you have it.

4.    Never buy what you do not want because it is cheap; it will be dear to you.

5.    Pride costs us more than hunger, thirst, and cold.

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6.    We never repent of having eaten too little.

7.    Nothing is troublesome that we do willingly.

8.    How much pain have those evils cost us which have never happened.

9.    Take things always by their smooth handle.

10.     When angry, count ten, before you speak; if very angry, an hundred.  (The Book of Man, 425).

Charles Sykes, Writer and Journalist: Things to Tell Your Children or Grandchildren

Rule 1:  Life is not fair—get used to it!

Rule 2:  The world won’t care about your self-esteem.  The world will expect you to accomplish something before you feel good about yourself.

Rule 3:  You will not make $60,000 a year right out of high school.  You won’t be a vice president with a car phone until you earn both.

Rule 4:  If you think your teacher is tough, wait until you get a boss.

Rule 5:  Flipping burghers is not beneath your dignity.  Your grandparents had a different word for burgher flipping.  They called it opportunity.

Rule 6:  If you mess up, it’s not your parents’ fault, so don’t whine about your mistakes; learn from them.

Rule 7: Before you were born, your parents weren’t as boring as they are now.  They got that way from paying your bills, cleaning your clothes, and listening to you talk about how cool you thought you were.  So, before you save the rain forest from the parasites of your parents’ generation, try delousing the closet in your own room.

Rule 8:  Your school may have done away with winners and losers, but life has not.  In some schools, they have abolished failing grades and they’ll give you as many times you want to get the right answer.  This doesn’t bear the slightest resemblance to anything in real life.

Rule 9:  Life is not divided into semesters.  You don’t get summers off, and very few employers are interested in helping you find yourself.  Do that on your own time.

Rule 10:  Be nice to nerds.  Chances are you’ll end up working for one! (The Book of Man, 379)

My Cousin Peter

Some years ago, before my cousin Peter became an architect, he taught boys in three of New York City’s trade and technical high schools, two of them located in the ghetto.   The boys, who came from lower income families, were mostly African American.  One thread linked them together:  There was no sign of fathers anywhere in their lives.  

The worst Friday in the year for the boys was anticipating the upcoming Father’s Day. Without their fathers, they were like orphans.  The boys’ mothers were the bread winners; grandmothers raised the children.  When a boy was absent from class, in most cases, he was caring for a sick grandmother. Mothers couldn’t afford to get sick.

Peter taught his students the basics of trade, architecture and building construction, drawing, drafting, and reading blueprints, but more importantly, they learned from him self-discipline and self-respect. He loved his boys with a firm yet understanding heart, gave them direction for the future, and often served as in loco parentis. Peter was a hero to those boys.  To this day, he is the much-loved patriarch of his family.

From Scripture

“A wise child makes a glad father but a foolish child is a mother’s grief” (Proverbs 10:1)     “Listen to your father who begot you, and do not despise your mother when she is old.  The father of the righteous will greatly rejoice.  He who begets a wise son will be glad in him. Let your father and mother be glad; let her who bore you rejoice” (Proverbs 23:ff).    

“After chaos, confusion, and turmoil, after a frantic search for him all over, they returned to Jerusalem to look for him. “After three days, they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.   . . . . When his parents saw him, they were astonished, and his mother said to him: ‘Why have you treated us like this?  Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety’” (Luke 3: 41ff).   

Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy. Today and every day, give us what we need.

 “To our sons, John and Joseph, who are becoming the kind of men we hoped, prayed, and worked for.  Know that others will say of each of you, following Homer, that the son is far better than the father, and that he makes glad the heart of his mother.”  This dedication appears at the beginning of William J. Bennett’s, The Book of Man.  

A Happy Father’s Day to All Fathers and Expectant Fathers.

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