08 May Reflections of a Son
A German proverb which has also become part of our English lexicon says, “blood is thicker than water,” suggesting that the bonds of family are stronger that the bonds of unrelated persons. And for most people this is probably true.
When I was a child, I had a father who did not live with us. His work kept him away so that we saw him only occasionally — for holidays and weekends, sometimes. During the summers, when we were out of school, we were able to go where he was and have further contact. But, I don’t ever remember of being held by my father. I remember no talks or long walks with my father, no guidance, no interaction on a deeply, personal level.
As I grew older, the realization that I did not have a meaningful relationship with him gave me some sense of independence. I did not enjoy being with him. I preferred it when he was gone. We had little to talk about and little in common, or so I thought.
Among my siblings and me, we were frequently critical of our dad. We sometimes made fun of his idiosyncrasies. We relied on our mother and one another for emotional support. When our father was around, he was accorded the respect of being head of the home. We obeyed him. But for the most part, his presence was patiently tolerated, rather than sustained.
Yet, it was an odd thing. When there were differences of opinion in our small community, and someone spoke ill of our father, we defended and supported him. An attack or criticism of him was an attack or criticism of our family. He was, after all, an honest man who worked hard to be a provider. He frequently helped others. In fact, it seemed easier for him to relate with others than to those within his own family.
When I became a father myself and had children of my own I began to realize that whatever his shortcomings, my father must have loved us and worried about us. The fact that his own father had passed away three weeks before his birth left him with a vacuum in his own life from which he was never able to recover. Apparently, he had no role model to show him how a father should behave. His own insecurities prevented him from being all that he might have been. He had dropped out of school in the sixth grade, and struggled to be a provider much of his life. But he never abandoned his own family. He saw that we had the necessities of life, including a good college education for each of his children. I’ve come to believe that he gave us all that he could, emotionally, having suffered through his own lack of emotional support.
In the grand design of Heaven, we are born into families with parents, siblings, grandparents, and an heritage of generations past. It is the family that gives us shelter, identity, and refuge from the world. Families constitute the laboratory of life. In them we learn to speak, to serve, to share, to trust, to obey, to worship, to work, to play, and to generally interact with others. In some cases, we learn to do without.
One of the sad realities of our current culture is the demise of the traditional family. Where there are fatherless households, our society suffers.
President Lyndon Johnson said:
“The family is the corner stone of our society. More than any other force it shapes the attitude, the hopes, the ambitions, and the values of the child. And when the family collapses it is the children that are usually damaged. When it happens on a massive scale the community itself is crippled. So, unless we work to strengthen the family, to create conditions under which most parents will stay together, all the rest – schools, playgrounds, and public assistance, and private concern – will never be enough…”