Back in Michigan, my father was known as the fisherman of Tipsico Lake. I would like to take you back almost sixty years and have you envision a scene with a man trolling in a boat with his two sons aged about 7 and 15. I was the younger son. There are two ways to fish, “Still fishing” where you remain stationary and “trolling” where you move across the lake. At the time we were trolling. My dad would call out my name, “right oar” and I would pull the oar. I would say, “Dad can’t we still fish?” He would say, “we are still fishing… right oar”. Yes, my older brother and I were galley slaves for my father. My brother remarked, Dad, why can’t we get a motor like all these other people out here. My dad said, “What do I need a motor for, I’ve got you two. As we approached the lily pads where the big fish hung out, my dad would always have us stop rowing, take the oars out of the oar locks, put water in the locks and reinsert the oars, this way the oars wouldn’t squeak as we snuck up on the lunker bass my dad knew was in the lily pads. Then he would bang his kawoodie pipe on the side of the aluminum boat to knock out the old tobacco. Of course this could be heard all over the lake. Now a similar fishing scene was played out in winter when my dad took us out ice fishing. Eventually my brother and I got cold so my dad would tell us to run around and that we would warm up. That was his dad solution to the problem. My mother’s solution would have been to offer more clothing but a dad solution was to tell us to run around. We went fishing and hunting with my father for many years. We survived and my brother and I still laugh about it. They were things that the family males did together. While my father was not consciously aware of it, he was engaged in man making.
In spite of the press and media today a father is still a necessary part of the family. When I was younger “Father Knows Best”, “Leave it to Beaver” and “Ozzie and Harriet” were TV shows where the father was reasonable, rationale and compassionate and most of all, an adult. Since then we have had a parade of dysfunctional men as fathers like Archie Bunker in “All in the Family”, Al Bundy in “Married with Children” and “Homer Simpson in the Simpsons”. Now fathers are buffoons and not to be taken seriously. The children are more mature than their own fathers.
A lot has been made of the relationship between a mother and her sons but there are things a father can provide that helps a boy become a man and there are things a father provides that helps a woman chose the right man. What does a father contribute to a family?
A father is an anchor, measuring rod, a model and a compass.
My father worked for the Detroit Edison Company. He kissed my mom, left for work at 8am and returned home at 5:15pm five days a week, fifty weeks a year for 43 years. He was committed to his family and there was never a sense that food would not be on the table. As an anchor, he provided the stability that his two sons and two daughters needed. It is hard to thrive and grow when you are insecure and afraid. Children need an anchor.
As a school psychologist, half the children I worked with had no father in the home and many did not even know the name of their father. This was especially difficult for the little boys who, when given the opportunity to tell a fantasy story would always talk about a superhero who would come to rescue them. What a terrible statement to a young son to not even have any contact with him. That superhero was obviously that father they did not know and was only a part of their life in fantasy. I have two friends who are successful professionals. Neither has contact with his adult children. Neither has a sense of remorse about this. It is up to them to make peace with their children. They are the adults. I don’t care how successful you are. If you are estranged from your children, you have no legacy. Children need an anchor. “My soul clings to you; your right hand holds me fast” (Psalm 63:8).
A father is a measuring rod. He is the standard a son uses to gauge his progress and his failures. My father drank two beers a night every night I lived in the house that his father, my grandfather built. My father’s drinking was habitual but moderate. As an adult, every time I drank too much and too often I would think about my father’s daily limit. This held me in check until God rescued me. When I think about his accomplishments, I would say that I have the edge but when I think about his manhood, I would say that he will always have the edge. Tough decisions didn’t keep him awake at night as much as ruminating about the big lunker that he let get away. He used to call that “Buck fever”.
I once worked with an adolescent who had adequate academic skills but difficulty behaving in school. I asked him what his dad hoped for him. He said, “My dad hopes I will graduate from college.” I asked him, “What does he expect will happen”? He said, “My dad expects that I will wind up in prison like my brother.” We send signals out to those around us. People do what we expect not what we hope they will do. A father is a measuring rod. “For you have been my helper, and under the shadow of your wings I will rejoice.” (Psalm 63:7).
A father is a model. A father is the model of a man and a husband for his daughter. As someone who has worked with hundreds of women who were abused and battered by their husbands, it is evident to me that most of them were abused by their fathers. That is what these women know and that is what they expect. If a woman had an alcoholic father, she will often marry an alcoholic. Her father set the standard and that is what she looks for. Lance Armstrong wrote that his father, Eddie Gunderson abandoned Lance and his mother when Lance was two years old. Lance refuses to meet with his father to this day. One thing that Lance should not do is use his father as a reverse role model for parenting. His anger toward his father may have helped fuel his wins in the Tour de France but they will not serve him well as a father. The reverse is true also. The daughter that has a good relationship with her father will generally find a good man to marry. Even In those cases where she marries someone who mistreats her, she will not tolerate it because she knows better. Sometimes I would be a little jealous about the way Sharon would wait on her late father and cater to his needs. Then I would realize that I was also the beneficiary of their love for each other. He deserved her attention. He was a good father and grandfather. Sharon’s dad was a fisherman too. Thank God for them he didn’t own a row boat. “Right oar” A father is a model. “When I remember you upon my bed and remember you in the night watches.” (Psalm 63:6).
A father is a compass. To be more exact, a father is a point on the compass. There is a kind of security in knowing that whatever happens in life. Dad will be there. Like the father of the prodigal, dad will be there to make a place for you if you fail. In today’s terms, the phrase, “I’ve got your back” sums it up pretty well. No matter what happens in your life there is this safety net that is available as a last resort. You will not wind up on the street. You will always have a roof over your head and a bed to sleep on. I always knew where home was. When things were tough, I would even picture my bedroom at my parent’s house. There is something very reassuring when you know dad’s place is there as a last resort. He is available 24/7 by phone. When I was young and my dad and brother were up deer hunting in the Upper Peninsula, I used to feel vulnerable. Yes mom was there and my two sisters but the men were gone. The house wasn’t safe. I was glad when they returned. The world was oriented again. A father is a compass in another way. He pointed the way to old age. Many of his ailments are now my ailments. Many of his irritating mannerisms are mine now. He bequeathed them to me. Thanks dad. A father is a compass. “So I will bless you as long as I live and lift up my hands in your name.” (Psalm 63:4).
So for me, a father is an anchor, a measuring rod, a model and a compass. A good man models God to his children. They understand who God is through their father. When they become adolescents and find that their father is all too human, they will still have a model of who God is in their heads.My father has passed on and the compass point is no longer there for me. It is an irreplaceable point. To some extent one of the two of the most permanent and enduring parts of me are forever lost at least in this life I now live. But now I am an anchor, measuring rod, a model and a compass. I am a father of two sons who enjoy telling each other about the terrible ordeals they have been through with me in the name of recreation. As a priest I am referred to as father also. My hope as I live the remainder of the time God has allotted me, that for the church and her parishioners, I will attempt to be an anchor, measuring rod, model and a compass also.