My sense is that while we often sentimentalize mothers on Mother’s Day we often chastise fathers on Father’s Day. And both, of course, can be appropriate. As we come to Father’s Day this year I want to challenge and encourage fathers by relaying and commenting on the perceived common failure of fathers of a previous generation.
In his 2013 book about celebrity Johnny Carson author Henry Bushkin briefly comments on Carson as a father. Bushkin knows what he is talking about because he was Carson’s best friend and lawyer for many years and had no ax to grind.
Bushkin reports “that by any standard Johnny was not a very good father.” He notes that Johnny was concerned about his sons and often “expressed real worry about their well-being—but he was not a significant presence in their lives.”
Then came the observation that so struck me: “Johnny was very much a member of a generation of men that saw their principal paternal obligation as providing for their family’s material well-being.” My family was by no means well-off, but to a large degree I think that was true also of my father, and probably of his father as well.
Not to minimize the importance of a father providing materially for his family, but that is not enough. Thankfully many, if not most, contemporary dads know that and are a significant presence in the lives of their children. I’m not well read enough to know exactly when things began to change, but I do know I was a significant presence in the lives of my two children. I was committed and intentional about being engaged in what they were doing through every stage of their growing up and education.
I don’t understand why some dads are not more involved with their children, their children’s activities, and their children’s friends. I can’t count the number of soccer games, softball games, baseball games, basketball games, golf tournaments, speeches, and debates that Jan and I enjoyed while Audrey and Rob were growing up.
We also made family vacations and getaways a high priority by saving for them and putting them on the calendar. Camping wasn’t my favorite way to vacation, but we did it and we have some great memories. Periodically we would vacation with other families who had children near the ages of ours.
As talented and successful as Johnny Carson was he missed something important and valuable by not having a significant presence in the lives of his children. Perhaps he and many other dads of previous generations did not know any better. But things are different today. If you are a dad I hope you have enjoyed, are enjoying, and will enjoy being a significant presence in the lives of your children.
Happy Father’s Day!
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Photo Credit: Dad’s photo of a Father’s Day gift from Audrey when she was in preschool and a picture of Rob and me when he played in the US Amateur in Philadelphia.