By Walter H. Schneider
I was scared of my father at least what I felt for him was a little bit different from just a little respect but I also loved my father. I knew that he loved me too, that he loved and cared very much about all of us. He told me many things about the times when he grew up. Times had changed very much since then. He had to pay the employer with whom he apprenticed when he started work and had to work for the standard 60 hours per week.
When I grew up my father was much better off by having to work only the new standard of 48 hours per week. He loved to smoke, but every year during Lent he didn't. He only smoked a couple of pipes of tobacco per day when he did smoke.
He was an honest man and never asked anyone for help. He did not declare the bankruptcy that would have absolved him from all of his debts resulting from the collapse of the family business during the depression. He felt that only he was responsible for his debts and no-one else should be saddled with them.
Father passed away when I was 16 three years after he had his first debilitating stroke. I knew that I had passed from boyhood to manhood, but that I wasn't ready for the job because I had so much to learn yet, when two of his co-workers came to visit with him after his retirement to play cards with him. I knew that when one of them, Mr. Bernshaus, said to me: "Walter, it is terrible to see your father, or rather what he was, fade and vanish." I didn't know what to answer I think that I had just turned 13 but I wish that I would not have had to witness the deterioration of even the shell that had once held such a proud man. I wish that I would have had the blessing of his advice when I was a little more mature and better capable of appreciating what my father meant to me.
My father explained the workings of the world to me. He showed me the stars. Through him I learned to recognize the Milky Way. He explained that it was a blessing to be able to see it on account of the blackout rules at the end of the war. He taught me how to play chess. My mother told me that I should act like a man and always had many things for me to do that were a man's duty, but my father taught me how to be a man. He taught me what it means to be honest and true. He also gave me hope and the feeling of security, when he told of how the things that the war had destroyed and left in ruins had been meant to work, but told me at the same time that they would work that way again, perhaps even better than before.
He was a true patriarch, not an oppressor a servant to his family, perhaps its head, provider and steward, but not its master. The family was my father's master. From the time he became a man until his death, my father was a servant of God, his country, and of his family. He is my hero because, although he had to suffer much in his life and even though he had to try and survive impossible odds, he never lost his courage and his honesty, even though he often must have felt extremely frustrated.
My Father was born the oldest of six children, in Kempen, close to the German-Dutsch border in NW Germany. He underwent an apprenticeship as a millwright, after which he went to work for Jagenberg, a producer of fine paper and paper stock for print shops in Düsseldorf, where he met his wife Rosalie Opgenoorth, who had been working there as a secretary.
My Father was drafted during W.W. I and was severely wounded during the battle of the Somme in France. A shrapnel shell exploded in front of him and loaded his body with fragments, especially his upper body, that is, his lungs. Many of the fragments could not be removed with the medical technology that was available at the time. Father spent two years in a military hospital before he could be released into the world again.
He eventually took over his father's business of producing packaging machines. He expanded the business to the point where it employed 72 people. During the depression, in the late 1920's, his business went into receivership. His business manager had, unbeknownst to my dad, avoided making the payments for social insurances (he pocketed them). Those amounts were the straw that broke the camel's back. They became part of my dad's liabilities, because the business was not incorporated. He was able to obtain work with Henkel (a manufacturer of soaps and glues in Düsseldorf-Holthausen). However, he had his wages garnisheed so that payments were made on the business debts until his early retirement at age 63. During all those years his take-home-pay was no more than DM 400.00/month. In the 1950's, the purchasing power of that was about the same as that of $400 today.
My parents had seven children, of which I was the youngest, a late-comer — six years younger than my youngest sister. Without any doubt, my parents qualified for social assistance, but my dad was too proud to ask for it, as he was too proud to welsh on his financial obligations.
During W. W. II he was not subjected to the military draft, as far as I know for a number of reasons. He was too old at the time, his health was in a poor state as a result of the injuries received during W. W. I, and his work at Henkel was deemed too important.
In about 1938, he was able to qualify for a low-interest loan, sponsored by Henkel and the Government, and managed to obtain a house in Düsseldorf-Wersten, Robert Mayer Weg 7. The land on which the house was built was obtained through a 99-year lease. It provided the opportunity to put in a large garden. That garden became one of the mainstays in feeding his family. As my mother told me often, the original purchase price for the house was RM 3,500.00. A small barn was built in the back of the house for an additional RM 800.00. The annual rent for the property on which the house was built amounted to DM 27.00. (My youngest sister exercised the option to buy the lease for the land in the early '80s. The cost to her was DM 45,000, for only half of the property. The other half was expropriated by the City of Düsseldorf. Another row of houses was to be squeezed in between two existing rows).
At 63 years of age my father became subject to a series of increasingly debilitating strokes. After the first of these he went into early retirement. The pension payments which he received were not garnisheed anymore. So, in his retirement he and my mother lived at a somewhat better level of comfort. Unfortunately he wasn't able to enjoy his retirement, as during the following three years he could not perform any work associated with anything around the house anymore. During all this time he did not spend any time in the hospital and never even once remained in bed for more than a day until the day late in April 1952 when he suffered a stroke that made it necessary to provide in-house patient care for him. Within two days of the arrangements being made (with the sisters of the Cisterciense Order who provided community patient care in Düsseldorf-Wersten) he suffered his last stroke and passed away. Those two days were the only ones that I remember him being sick in bed.
We were poor, but our house was filled with love and laughter, thanks to my Dad.
To my Mother and Father,
who never confused the possession of goods with the good life.
Dedication in Vance Packard's "The Waste Makers"
Here are links to a few articles about fathers and Fatherhood Today that impressed me (contained farther down in this page). Maybe they'll do the same for you.
The New Dads
an overview by Judy Anderson, President of REAL Women
The following is a transcript of a portion of a speech given by Judy Anderson, President of REAL Women, at the NSPA (National Shared Parenting Association) conference at Metro Hall in Toronto, May 26, 1997.
Note: I was not able to record the first half of the speech. The recording of the second half turned out less than good. --WHS
. . . The first role ... that David Blankenhorn mentioned... are necessary fathers. Now there are maybe some of you here that dont feel that.
As I said earlier, fatherhood socializes men by obligating them to their children. This is cultural versus biological. George Gilder writes about it, Margaret Meade writes about it, David Blankenhorn writes about it. Now some of you might disagree. You might want to bring this up later. From my own experience, I look around, woman are biologically tied to their children in a way that men are not. We bear them in our bodies for nine months.
Becoming a dad biologically is like, split second, it can happen in two minutes, maybe thirty seconds, and it happens really fast. We bear in our bodies and nurse at our breast these babies.
I thought it was very interesting -- I hope that you dont mind that Im a little amused -- that here there was a man that spoke about toys and how to play with kids. Now in all my years of being involved with REAL Women and as an elementary school teacher, I never had a workshop on how to play with kids. You know, with moms, generally you know, they are there, so play with the kids.
Dont think that Im putting you down with the role of fatherhood. And I would agree with it, you know, that socializing behaviour, you know in societies where fathers are not, men are not socialized to be fathers, they are generally not going to be particularly good fathers. Im not talking about all of them but, we now live in a society, just look around, we can see the large number of young men who have fathered children who are no-where around. The woman who is the mother of their kids and no-where near their kids, and when we live in a society where [unitelligible] policy, the media, etc. etc... I mean look at, look at the media, how stupid are men made to watch. I enjoyed the movie Mrs. Doubtfire but, you know what I mean. Men are made to look rather silly in a lot of cases. When we have a society which accepts that as the norm and doesnt require that men take on their responsibility, that doesnt help them either.
I think you would all agree here. You are not being helped by public policy and public perception to be fathers. And when we throw that story out we find -- guess what -- we have a lot of men who are not good fathers. Now who tells us the story about fathers [unintelligible]. Blankenhorn says that the experts and the elite who set the agenda for public policy, so what is the story that they tell of fatherhood? Well, that it is, too, obsolete, unnecessary, undesirable. Why cant fathers be more like mothers? Isnt that what they are always asking? Look at books and television. There are deliberate attempts to downplay fatherhood as a serious and necessary business.
Now another role that he says for fathers that he says there was, is the old father. The old father was Robert Young in Father knows best. There was Ward Cleaver in Leave it to Beaver. Did any of you watch those shows? I used to. Now I really liked Robert Young, and I really liked Ward. Thats when I was nursing my first daughter, I was sixteen, I would watch Leave it to Beaver, you know I would go home at one in the afternoon rather than in my classroom. I thought Ward was great. He wasnt awful to Tony or whatever [unintelligible] Beaver and Wally [interjection from the audience] Yeah, thank you Beaver and Wally. He was an understanding, loving, caring male, and so was Robert Young in Father Knows Best, and they didnt lock their wives in a closet somewhere, did they? No, they didnt sell bread crumbs? No, they did take them on holidays, they took them for dinner, you know? Said Hi, Zadia [?], you look great , something like that. [unintelligible]
But, what was so wrong with the old father? And you know what? My dad is an old father. Hes actually getting older by the minute, hes seventy but, okay, I was born in 1949, my dad changed diapers. I have a twin sister, identical twin, and she, by the way, totally agrees with me. If she were here, you know, wed totally agree. My dad changed diapers, he fed us bottles, he took us boat-watching -- we lived near the Welland Canal -- he told us stories, he did all kinds of things with us. What about these horrible old dads? They were all doing what? Reading the newspaper, beating their wives, drinking beer. I think my dad drank some beer, but yeah, so it happens, hes a couch-potato. No way! Like what Doug [Doug Steen who gave instructions on how to play with children, demonstrating by using toys] was talking about earlier, my dad was doing in the early fifties.
Nobody had to tell him to do it. He just did it, you know, daughters, but, I dont know about the demonizing of the old fathers. Yet we are told that fathers are sordid and arbitrary and dangerous. Now thats the new script. My father was not sordid and was not arbitrary and not dangerous! But Im sorry to say that because of his love for his children he might say No! to protect them, and, by the way, his kids might respond, because they love that man and they know how important he is to them. But that dad, the old dad, is demonized in todays society.
Now the true picture, Ill tell you, dont talk about male authority, etc., etc., we are trying to downplay that and make the boys play with dolls and the girls play with trucks. Thats the picture of our society, I mean because, you know, it doesnt work too well.
Now I want to digress just a little bit. I wonder if some of you have heard of Angela's Ashes Its a best-seller thats written by a man called Frank McCourt. It is the story about his poverty-stricken youth in Limerick, Ireland. It just won the Pulitzer Price. [ ] A wonderful book, by Frank McCourt, Angelas Ashes. His dad was loser, he drank all the dole-money. They lived in abject poverty, but you know what? He loved his father. Im gonna read you a little, tiny excerpt about what he said about his dad. This is the old dad that we are all supposed to hate:
I know when Dad does the bad thing. I know when he drinks the dole-money and Mam is desperate and has to beg at the St. Vincent de Paul Society and ask for credit at Kathleen O'Connell's shop but I don't want to back away from him and run to Mam. How can I do that when when I'm up with him every morning with the whole world asleep? He lights the fire and makes the tea and sings to himself or reads the paper to me in a whisper that wont wake up the rest of the family. Mikey Molly stole Cuchulain, the Angel on the Seventh Step is gone someplace else. My father in the morning is still mine. [p. 208]
Now his dad is somewhat like the fellow in the story. I heard an interview with him and the -- I assume a feminist -- interviewer said: You know? Frank, I hate your dad, and Frank McCourt said: You do? Frank McCourt doesnt hate his dad. You know what he says there? He loves his dad.
Since then, when I heard the speech and that passage from Frank McCourt's book read in it, I had a chance to get a copy of "Angela's Ashes." On page 210 of the book Frank McCourt concludes that particular reminiscence about his dad with:
I think my father is like the Holy Trinity with three people in him, the one in the morning with the paper, the one at night with the stories and the prayers, and then the one who does the bad thing and comes home with the smell of whiskey and wants us to die for Ireland.
I feel sad over the bad thing but I can't back away from him because the one in the morning is my real father and if I were in America I could say, I love you, Dad, the way they do in the films but you can't say that in Limerick for fear you might be laughed at. You're allowed to say you love God and babies and horses that win but anything else is a softness in the head.
Sure there are fathers who are bad, perhaps often or perhaps even continuously, but there are very few almost none who are like that. Virtually without exception all fathers are warm, caring and loving people. It's too bad that there are so many children now, even in America and in all developed nations, who can't experience the warmth, care and love of their fathers. Too bad that there are now so many children (42 percent of the those growing up right now in the USA) who can't tell their fathers that they love them and who'll never know what it is like to be hugged by their fathers. Even though by far most fathers pay the child support that is to make up for their absence, money is a very terribly poor substitute for real love and a real presence in the lives of fathers' children.
Ostensibly, women have been liberated through the efforts of the feminists, but in the process our children acquired a terrible loss.
The next article is one by David Popenoe, a well-renowned sociologist.
Life Without a Father
By David Popenoe
Readers Digest (Canada) November 1997, page 117
What a man contributes to child rearing may surprise you
THE DECLINE of fatherhood is one of the most unexpected and extraordinary social trends of our time. In just three decades -- 1960 to 1990 -- the number of children living apart from their
biological fathers [that is: natural fathers] nearly doubled. By the turn of the century almost 50 percent of North American children may be going to sleep each evening without being able to say good night to their dads.
There was a time in the past when fatherlessness was far more common than it is today, but death was to blame -- not divorce, desertion or out-of-wedlock births. Most of todays fatherless children have fathers who are perfectly capable of shouldering the responsibilities of fatherhood. Who would ever have thought that so many of them would choose to relinquish those responsibilities?
A surprising suggestion emerging from recent social-science research is that it is decidedly worse to a child to lose a father in the modern, voluntary way than through death. The children of divorced and never-married mothers are less successful by almost every measure than the children of widowed mothers.
Out-of-wedlock births may surpass divorce as a cause of fatherlessness later in the 1990s. They accounted for 32 percent of all U.S. births in 1995; by the year 2000 they may account for 40 percent of the total. And there is reason to believe that having an unmarried father is even worse for a child than having a divorced father.
MEN ARE not biologically attuned to being committed fathers. Left culturally unregulated, mens sexual behaviour can be promiscuous, their paternity casual, their commitment to families weak. In recognition of this, cultures have used sanctions to bind men to their children, and of course the institution of marriage has been cultures chief vehicle.
Our experience in late-20th-century society shows what happens when such a sanction breaks down. The decline of fatherhood is a major force behind many of the most disturbing problems that plague us.
In the mid-1950s, only 27 percent of American girls had sexual intercourse by age 18; in 1988, 56 percent of such girls-including a tenth of 15-year-olds-had become sexually active. Fatherlessness is a contributing factor.
Teen suicide has nearly tripled in the United States. Alcohol and drug abuse among teenagers continues at a very high rate. Scholastic Assessment Test scores declined 75 points between 1960 and l990. The absence of fathers seems to be one of the most important causes of these trends.
Few people doubt the fundamental importance of mothers, but what do fathers do? Much of what they contribute is simply the result of being a second adult in the home. Bringing up children is demanding, stressful and exhausting. Two adults can support and spell each other. They can offset each others deficiencies and build on each others strengths.
Fathers also bring an array of unique qualities. Some are familiar: the father as protector, for example, and role model. Teenage boys without fathers are notoriously prone to trouble. The pathway to adulthood for daughters is somewhat easier, but they still must learn from their fathers, in ways they cannot from their mothers, how to relate to men. They learn from their fathers about heterosexual trust, intimacy and difference. They learn to appreciate their own femininity from the one male who is most special in their lives. Most important, through loving and being loved by their fathers, they learn that they are love-worthy.
Current research gives much deeper -- and more surprising -- insights into the fathers role in child rearing. One significant overlooked dimension of fathering is play. From their childrens birth through adolescence, fathers tend to emphasize play more than caretaking. The fathers style of play is likely to be both physically stimulating and exciting. With older children it involves more team work, requiring competitive testing of physical and mental skills. It frequently resembles a teaching relationship: Come on, let me show you how.
Mothers play more at the childs level. They seem willing to let the child direct play.
Kids, at least in the early years, seem to prefer to play with daddy. In one study of 2 ½-year-olds who were given a choice, more than two thirds chose to play with their father.
The way fathers play has effects on everything from the management of emotions to intelligence and academic achievement. It is particularly important in promoting self-control. According to one expert, "children who roughhouse with their fathers quickly learn that biting, kicking and other forms of physical violence are not acceptable." They learn when to "shut it down." At play and in other realms, fathers tend to stress competition, challenge, initiative, risk taking and independence. Mothers, as caretakers, stress emotional security and personal safety. On the playground fathers often try to get the child to swing ever higher, while mothers are cautious, worrying about an accident.
We know, too, that fathers involvement seems to be linked to improved verbal and problem-solving skills and higher academic achievement. Several studies found that the presence of the father is one of the determinants of girls proficiency in mathematics. And one pioneering study showed that along with paternal strictness, the amount of time fathers spent reading with them was a strong predictor of their daughters verbal ability.
For sons, the results have been equally striking. Studies uncovered a strong relationship between fathers involvement and the mathematical abilities of their sons. Other studies found a relationship between paternal nurturing and boys verbal intelligence.
We dont often think of fathers in connection with the teaching of empathy, a character trait essential to an ordered society of law-abiding, co-operative and compassionate adults. But at the end of a 26-year study, a trio of re-
[A graph was inserted here in the original article. The graph, called
CANADIAN CHILDREN LIVING
APART FROM THEIR FATHERS,
shows the following data
Source: Statistics Canada, 93 312; and Census of Canada]
searchers at Harvard University reached a "quite astonishing" conclusion: Of those they examined, the most important childhood factor in developing empathy was paternal involvement in child care.
It is not clear why fathers are so important in instilling this quality. Perhaps merely by being with their children they provide a model for compassion. Perhaps it has to do with their style of play or mode of reasoning. Whatever the cause, it is hard to think of a more important contribution that fathers can make to their children.
The benefits of active fatherhood do not all flow to the child. Child rearing encourages men to develop those habits of character -- including prudence, cooperativeness, honesty, trust and self-sacrifice -- that can lead to achievement as an economic provider. Having children typically impresses on men the importance of setting a good example. Who has not heard at least one man say that he gave up an irresponsible way of life when he married and had children?
On the face of it, there would seem to be at least one potentially positive side to fatherlessness: Without a man around the house, the incidence of child abuse might be expected to drop. Unfortunately, reports of child neglect and abuse have skyrocketed since the mid '70s. One of the greatest risk factors in child abuse, investigations found, is family disruption, especially living in a female-headed, single-parent household.
Why does living in a fatherless household pose such hazards for children? Explanations include poverty and the fact that children receive less supervision and protection from men their mothers bring home. Children are also more emotionally deprived, which leaves them "vulnerable to sexual abusers, who commonly entrap them by offering affection, attention and friendship," wrote David Finkelhor, an expert on child abuse.
Another group that has suffered in the new age of fatherlessness is, of course, women. In this new era the oft-quoted quip that a woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle no longer seems quite so funny. There is no doubt that many women get along very well without men in their lives, and that having the wrong men in their lives can be disastrous. But just as it seems to play a role in assaults on children, fatherlessness appears to be a factor in generating more violence against women.
Partly this is a matter of arithmetic. As the number of unattached males in the population goes up, so does the incidence of violence towards women.
IN ORDER to reinstate fathers in the lives of their children, we must undo the cultural shift of the last few decades towards radical individualism. Marriage must be re-established as a strong social institution.
Many practical steps can be taken. Employers, for example, can provide generous parental leave and experiment with more flexible work hours. Religious leaders can reclaim moral ground from the culture of divorce and non-marriage by resisting the temptation to equate "committed relationships" with marriage. Marriage counsellors can begin with a bias in favour of marriage, stressing the needs of the family at least as much as the needs of the client. As for the entertainment industry, pressure already is being brought to curtail the glamorization of unwed motherhood, marital infidelity and sexual promiscuity.
We should consider a two-tier system of divorce law: Marriages without minor children would be relatively easy to dissolve, but marriages with children would be subject to stricter guidelines. Longer waiting periods for divorcing couples with children might be called for, combined with mandatory marriage counselling.
If we are to progress towards a more just and humane society, we must reverse the tide that is pulling fathers apart from their families. Nothing is more important for our children or for our future as a society.
How important do you think fathers are to family life? We welcome your views. Write to Readers Reply at the address on page 8 or post your comments on our web site at http://www.readersdigest.ca. Your views may be included in a future issue.
215, Redfern Ave.
Note: I checked their website but could not find a specific e-mail address that seemed appropriate. I suppose that some of the ones shown will do, if the recipient will forward the message to the appropriate party. --WHS]
FROM LIFE WITHOUT FATHER. COPYRIGHT © 1996 BY DAVID POPENOE PUBLISHED BY THE FREE PRESS A DIVISION OF SIMON & SCHUSTER, INC., NEW YORK, N.Y., AND DlSTRIBUTED IN CANADA AT $34 BY DISTICAN INC, 35 FULTON WAY, RlCHMOND HILL, ONT. L4B 2N4 PHOTO: [not shown] © RICHARD LEE
DAVID POPENOE is a professor of sociology at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J.
===<end of article>===
In response to the article, I sent the following message to Reader's Digest:
Dear Reader's Digest,
Re: Life Without Father, November 1997
Thank you for publishing the outstanding article by David Popenoe. It is too bad that the article contained two paragraphs that didn't ring quite true in the context, although they are in line with the "politically correct" view that men are to be blamed for everything bad that has befallen us over the last thirty year and before that.
In his second paragraph David Popenoe stated:
"There was a time in the past when fatherlessness was far more common than it is today, but death was to blame -- not divorce, desertion or out-of-wedlock births. Most of todays fatherless children have fathers who are perfectly capable of shouldering the responsibilities of fatherhood. Who would ever have thought that so many of them would choose to relinquish those responsibilities?"
A number of things are not right with that.
Never in modern history has fatherlessness been more common than it is now, not even as a result of the massive numbers of casualties during the First World War, and never before in the history of mankind was fatherlessness pandemic at anything approaching todays rates in the whole world, especially not in all of western civilization.
One statistic might serve to provide some clarification in that regard. In my home-town (Duesseldorf, Germany, pop 540,000 before W.W.II and 350,000 at end of W.W.II) immediately after the end of W.W.II, "Almost 10% of the children had lost their fathers, the fathers of 4.5% of the children were missing in action and of 7.8% in prison of war camps;" [Source: In Schutt und Asche, page 100 (Volker Zimmermann, Grupello Verlag, ISBN 3-928234-28-5, (my translation) --WHS]. Im certain that other people will be able to provide far more comprehensive statistics pertaining to historical levels of fatherlessness.
There is nothing wrong with the statement contained in the second sentence in the paragraph. It clearly illustrates the insanity of todays society in substituting fathers with government care, by pushing fathers out of their childrens life. Im glad that Prof. Popenoe makes an excellent case for the wrongfulness of that policy in the rest of his article. However, the last sentence in the paragraph is an outrageous insult to all fathers who are fighting a hopeless battle for the right of their children to have a father in their lives. Those fathers are being emotionally and financially devastated by our bureaucracies in the process of that battle. After all, it is not mostly fathers who walk out of their childrens lives that causes our epidemic of fatherlessness. In three out of four cases it is the mother who pushes the father out of the childrens lives and files for divorce -- most often in the mistaken belief that a life without a provider and protector in the family will provide greater freedom and
What Prof. Popenoe should have clarified instead in that paragraph is that never in the history of mankind have men been vilified to the extent that they are being vilified today, and that as a result of that vilification a constant stream of anti-father and anti-family legislation is being produced that increasingly makes it impossible for far too many fathers to play an active role in their childrens lives.
Let's hope that Prof. Popenoe will also write an article on single motherhood and the problems faced by children who grow up in the care of single mothers together with their half-siblings who are often the children of two or more different men. That might compensate for the impact that his fourth paragraph has on his readers. He stated there:
"MEN ARE not biologically attuned to being committed fathers. Left culturally unregulated, mens sexual behaviour can be promiscuous, their paternity casual, their commitment to families weak. In recognition of this, cultures have used sanctions to bind men to their children, and of course the institution of marriage has been cultures chief vehicle."
Why did Prof. Popenoe find it necessary to single out men for their tendency to be promiscuous? Is it not true that the need for "sanctions to bind men to their children" within the institution of marriage applies just the same to women? Else, why is it that women have children out of wedlock and by men not part of their marriage, or have children by many different men? Promiscuity it not an exclusive male domain. The effect of promiscuity on children is just as devastating if the mother is promiscuous without having her sexuality regulated by marriage. Men and women are as equally likely to be promiscuous as they are equally likely to be violent. Both men and women are members of the same species. It took the institution of marriage to bring about the civilizing of the human race. That brought order into chaos. Will the reverse not happen if our families are being destroyed? It seems to me that Prof. Popenoe made a very good case for the family. Let's hope that we will hear more of his views, but, let's hope also that he'll hold back a bit on the male-bashing.
Walter H. Schneider
P.O. Box 62
Bruderheim, Alberta, Canada
Tel: (780) 796-2306
The next article is by Betty Youngs
Why I Chose My Father To Be My Dad
I grew up on a beautiful sprawling farm in Iowa, raised by parents who are often described as the "salt of the earth and the backbone of the community." They were all the things we know good parents to be: loving, committed to the task of raising their children with high expectations and a positive sense of self-regard. They expected us to do morning and evening chores, get to school on time, get decent grades and be good people.
There are six children. Six children! It was never my idea that there should be so many of us, but then no one consulted me. To make matters worse, fate dropped me off in the middle of the American heartland in a most harsh and cold climate. Like all children, I thought that there had been a great universal mistake and I had been placed in the wrong family -most definitely in the wrong state. I disliked coping with the elements. The winters in Iowa are so freezing cold that you have to make rounds in the middle of the night to see that livestock aren't stranded in a place where they would freeze to death. Newborn animals had to be taken in the barn and sometimes warmed up in order to be kept alive. Winters are that cold in Iowa!
My dad, an incredibly handsome, strong, charismatic and energetic man was always in motion. My brothers and sisters and I were in awe of him. We honored him and held him in the highest esteem. Now I understand why. There were no inconsistencies in his life. He was an honorable man, highly principled. Farming, his chosen work, was his passion; he was the best. He was at home raising and caring for animals. He felt at one with the earth and took great pride in planting and harvesting the crops. He refused to hunt out of season, even though deer, pheasants, quail and other game roamed our farm-lands in abundance. He refused to use soil additives or feed the animals anything other than natural grains. He taught us why he did this and why we must embrace the same ideals. Today I can see how conscientious he was because this was in the mid '50s before there was an attempt at universal commitment to earth-wide environmental preservation.
Dad was also a very impatient man, but not in the middle of the night when he was checking his animals during these late night rounds. The relationship we developed from these times together was simply unforgettable. It made a compelling difference in my life. I learned so much about him. I often hear men and women say they spent so little time with their fathers. Indeed the heart of today's men's groups is about groping for a father they never really knew. I knew mine.
Back then I felt as if I was secretly his favorite child, although it's quite possible that each of us six children felt that way. Now that was both good news and bad. The bad news was that I was the one selected by Dad to go with him for these midnight and early morning barnyard checks, and I abso- lutely detested getting up and leaving a warm bed to go out into the frosty air. But my dad was at his best and most lovable during those times. He was most understanding, patient, gentle and was a good listener. His voice was gentle and his smile made me understand my mother's passion for him. It was during these times when he was a model teacher-always focusing on the whys, the reasons for doing. He talked endlessly for the hour or hour- and-a-half that it took to make the rounds. He talked about his war experiences, the whys of the war he served in and about the region, its people, the effects of war and its aftermath. Again and again he told his story. In school I found history all the more exciting and familiar.
He talked about what he gained from his travels and why seeing the world was so important. He instilled a need and love of traveling. I had worked in or visited some 30 countries by the time I was 30 years old.
He talked about the need and love of learning and why a formal education is important, and he talked about the difference between intelligence and wisdom. He wanted so much for me to go beyond my high school degree. "You can do it," he'd say over and over. "You're a Burres. You are bright, you have a good mind and, remember, you're a Burres." There was no way I was going to let him down. I had more than enough confidence to tackle any course of study. Eventually I completed a Ph.D. and later earned a second doctorate. Though the first doctorate was for Dad and the second for me, there was definitely a sense of curiosity and quest that made both easy to attain.
He talked about standards and values, developing character and what it meant in the course of one's life. I write and teach on a similar theme. He talked character and what it meant in the course of one's life. I write and teach on a similar theme. He talked about how to make and evaluate decisions, when to cut your losses and walk away and when to stick it out, even in the face of adversity. He talked about the concept of being and becoming and not just having and getting. I still use that phrase. "Never sell out on your heart," he said. He talked about gut instincts and how to decipher between those and emotional sells, and how to avoid being fooled by others. He said, "Always listen to your instincts and know that all the answers you'll ever need are within you. Take quiet time alone. Be still enough to mind the answers within and then listen to them. Find something you love to do, then live a life that shows it. Your goals should stem from your values, and then your work will radiate your heart's desire. This will divert you from all silly distractions that will only serve to waste your time-your very life is about time-how much you can grow in whatever years you are given. Care about people," he said, "and always respect mother earth. Wherever you shall live, be sure you have full view of the trees, sky and land."
My father. When I reflect on how he loved and valued his children, I'm genuinely sorry for the youth who will never know their fathers in this way or will never feel the power of character, ethics, drive and sensitivity all in one person --- as I do in mine. My dad modeled what he talked. And I knew he was serious about me. I knew he felt me worthy, and he wanted me to see that worth.
Dad's message made sense to me because I never saw any conflict in the way he lived his life. He had thought about his life and he lived it daily. He bought and paid for several farms over time (he's as active today as he was then). He married and has loved the same woman for a lifetime. My mother and he, now married for nearly 50 years, are still inseparable sweethearts. They are the greatest lovers I've known. And he loved his family so much. I thought he was overly possessive and protective of his children, but now that I'm a parent I can understand those needs and see them for what they are. Though he thought he could save us from the measles and almost did, he vehemently refused to lose us to destructive vices. I also see how determined he was that we be caring and responsible adults.
To this day five of his children live within a few miles of him, and they have chosen a version of his lifestyle. They are devoted spouses and parents, and agriculture is their chosen work. They are without a doubt, the back-bone of their community. There is a twist to all this, and I suspect it's because of his taking me on those midnight rounds. I took a different direction than did the other five children. I began a career as an educator, counselor and university professor, eventually writing several books for parents and children to share what I had learned about the importance of developing self-esteem in the childhood years. My messages to my daughter, while altered a bit, are the values that I learned from my father, tempered with my life experiences, of course. They continue to be passed on. I should tell you a bit about my daughter. She's a tomboy, a beautiful 5 foot 9 athlete who letters in three sports each year, frets over the difference be- tween an A- and a B, and was just named a finalist in the Miss Teen California contest. But it's not her outward gifts and accomplishments that remind me of my parents. People always tell me that my daughter possesses a great kindness, a spirituality, a special fire deep inside that radiates outward. The essence of my parents is personified in their granddaughter. The rewards of esteeming their children and being dedicated parents have had a most nourishing effect on the lives of my parents as well. As of this writing my father is at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, for a battery of tests, scheduled to take from six to eight days. It is December. Because of the harsh winter, he took a hotel room near the clinic (as an outpatient). Because of obligations at home, my mother was only able to stay with him for the first few days. So on Christmas Eve, they were apart.
That night I first called my dad in Rochester to say Merry Christmas. He sounded down and despondent. Then, I called my mother in Iowa. She was sad and morose. "This is the first time your father and I have ever spent the holidays apart," she lamented. "It's just not Christmas without him."
I had 14 dinner guests arriving, all ready for a festive evening, but not being able to get my parents' dilemma fully off my mind, I called my older sister. She called my brothers. We conferenced by phone. It was settled. Determined that our parents should not be without each other on Christmas Eve, my younger brother would drive the two hours to Rochester to pick up my father and bring him home without telling my mother. 1 called my father to tell him of the plans. "Oh, no," he said, "it's far too dangerous to come out on a night like this." My brother arrived in Rochester and knocked at my fathers hotel door. He called me from Dad's room to tell me he wouldn't go.
"You have to tell him, Bobbie. You're the only one he'll listen to."
"Go, Dad," I said gently.
He did. Tim and my dad started for Iowa. We kids kept track of their progress, the journey and the weather by talking with them on my brother's car phone. By now, all my guests had arrived and all were a part of this ordeal. Whenever the phone rang, we put it on the speaker phone so we could hear the latest! It was just past 9:00 when the phone rang and it was Dad on the car phone, "Bobbie, how can I possibly go home without a gift for your mom? It would be the first time in nearly 50 years I didn't get her perfume for Christmas!" By now my entire dinner party was engineering this plan. We called my sister to get the names of nearby open shopping centers so they could stop for the only gift my dad would consider giving Mom-the same brand of perfume he has given her every year at Christmas.
At 9:52 that evening, my brother and my dad left a little shopping mall in Minnesota for the trip home. At 11:50 they drove into the farmstead. My father, acting like a giggling school boy, stepped around the corner of the house and stood out of sight.
"Mom, I visited Dad today and he said to bring you his laundry," my brother said as he handed my mom the suitcases.
"Oh," she said softly and sadly, "I miss him so much, I might as well do these now."
Said my father coming out from his hiding, "You won't have time to do them tonight."
After my brother called me to relay this touching scene between our parents-these two friends and lovers I phoned my mother. "Merry Christmas, Mother!"
"Oh, you kids . . .," she said in a crackling voice choking back tears. She was unable to continue. My guests cheered.
Though I was 2,000 miles away from them, it was one of the most special Christmases I've shared with my parents. And, of course, to date my parents have not been apart on Christmas Eve. That's the strength of children who love and honor their parents and, of course, the committed and marvelous marriage my parents share.
"Good parents," Jonas Salk once told me, "give their children roots and wings. Roots to know where home is, wings to fly away and exercise what's been taught them." If gaining the skills to lead one's life purposefully and having a safe nest and being welcomed back to it is the legacy of parents, then I believe I chose my parents well. It was this past Christmas that I most fully understood why it was necessary that these two people be my parents. Though wings have taken me around the globe, eventually to nest in lovely California, the roots my parents gave me will be an indelible foundation forever.
Bettie B. Youngs
Bettie Youngs is President of Instruction & Professional Development, Inc., a resource and consulting firm providing in-service to school districts. Bettie is a former Iowa Teacher-of-the-Year, is currently Professor at San Diego State University and Executive Director of the Phoenix Foundation. She is the author of 14 books including The Educator's Self-Esteem: It's Criteria #1, The 6 Vital Ingredients of Self-Esteem And How To Develop Them In Students and Safeguarding Your Teenager From The Dragons of Life. She can be reached at 3060 Racetrack View Drive, Del Mar, California 92014 or call (619) 481-6360.
From: Chicken Soup for the Soul (Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hanson, Health Communications, Inc. Deerfield Beach, Florida), page 87, 304
The White Rose
Thoughts are Free
1999 06 04
2000 08 26 (to show the proper wording of the quote by Judy Anderson from "Angela's Ashes," and to elaborate on my subsequent comments)
2001 01 30 (format changes)
2006 03 04 (added link to Feminism for Male College