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Do Unto Others

A slushy snow/rain mix poured from the sky as I drove to pick up my son Nicco at football practice. I was acting on direct orders from his mother, who was not concerned whether the coach had formally called off practice. It was simply “time he came home with the weather like this.”

Fortunately, a flash of lightning took all the guesswork out of whether to cancel, and instead of merely picking up him, I suddenly had two of his friends in the car as well. They were soaked as the deluge continued. After considering their situation (both boys lived with single, working moms, who were not yet home), I suggested they come home with us to dry out and have some dinner.

The boys were greeted at the door with fresh towels from my wife, and as they were warming themselves by the fireplace, the homey scent of chicken soup wafted in the air. On the table were generous bowls with thick Italian bread for dipping. I commented that the boys were in for a real treat. The talk was at first light and comical. Then Nicco evidently had something to get off his chest, and as he and I discussed the problem, the other boys sat respectfully silent. The solution was found by my asking him about his integrity, honesty and commitment, and especially how he would want to be treated if he were in a similar situation. His final take on the issue was arrived at from the years of my tutelage (i.e., “give a man a fish vs. teach a man to fish”). My wife and I have always held a statement by Jean Paul Richter in high esteem: “The conscience of children is formed by the influences that surround them; their notions of good and evil are the result of the moral atmosphere they breathe.”

Face The Facts

Please note a few basic elements here. I went to get our son because his mother and I were concerned about his safety due to the weather. I did not call home before bringing two extra “guests.” She immediately welcomed them and provided for their comfort. The fire I built, the soup she made and the home we created were comforting because the boys felt welcomed. I credit most, if not all of this, to my wife. Women are simply better equipped than men to do that. This is simply a fact--the nurturing “tools” of home and hearth are honed by the feminine hand.

My role was to be an example, the enforcer and the overseer of all that our home stands for. Therefore, my part was deciding to bring the boys home then sincerely complimenting and respecting the work my wife put into the meal. And I helped my son find a solution to his problem by showing him a simple pattern for a quality life. Does this sound terribly sexist? Do these roles we play sound right out of the 1940s? Perhaps, but let’s admit something here, friends. The new, modern, single-parent approach, as my Italian great-grandfather used to say, “Sheesa notta worka so good.”

I know many single moms and dads are trying so hard to do it alone. They are often not in these situations by choice, and they are trying to make the world right for their kids, who are operating on “half-full” tanks. Sadly, despite their efforts, a piece is missing. The majority of those who are given the single-parent-raising-kids task are women, and no matter how hard they try, the missing piece is the stability and order of a man in the life, in the house, in the secure mind of children. Robert Redford as Roy Hobbs in The Natural (1984) said, “A father makes all the difference.”

Think It Through

Yes, I know there are some men whose presence is more damaging than their absence, and shame on them. What these man-child types seem to have forgotten is they chose to bring a life into the world. That means their childhood was over when the child’s childhood began. I’m sorry if they can’t golf five nights a week or play on three softball teams or drink until all hours of the night or take the next promotion, but there needs to be a level of sacrifice here. I suggest that the demise of our once-proud civilization and American way of life will come from men abandoning the commitments they had made as husbands and fathers. That commitment begins with the decision to conceive. Not when the man finds out the woman is pregnant. Not when he “can’t believe this happened.” It’s not when he commits the most intimate act with another person and elects to gamble about the outcome. He needs to get it through his head that he has just put the possibility of a new life before the importance of his own. According to “Getting Men Involved: The Newsletter of the Bay Area Male Involvement Network,” children raised in fatherless homes account for:

* 63% of youth suicides (Source: U.S. D.H.H.S., Bureau of the Census)

* 90% of all homeless and runaway children

* 85% of all children who exhibit behavioral disorders (Source: Centers for Disease Control)

* 80% of rapists motivated with displaced anger (Source: Criminal Justice & Behavior, Vol 14, pp. 403-426, 1978)

* 71% of all high-school dropouts (Source: National Principals Association Report on the State of High Schools)

* 75% of all adolescent patients in chemical abuse centers (Source: Rainbows for All God’s Children)

* 70% of juveniles in state-operated institutions (Source: U.S. Dept. of Justice, Special Report, Sept. 1988)

* 85% of all youths sitting in prisons (Source: Fulton Co. Georgia jail populations, Texas Dept. of Corrections 1992).

These are staggering numbers. Shouldn’t people be taking parental responsibility more seriously? In Matthew 18:5, Jesus emphasized our responsibility to children: “Whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me; but whosoever causes one of these little ones to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea.”

Pointing Fingers

And we shouldn’t be comforting ourselves into thinking this is only a low-income, society-gap problem. It happens just as often in well-off, upper-middle class homes as it does in financially challenged homes--often more frequently.

Recently, actor Michael Douglas made remarks in an interview on NBC's Today show. His son, Cameron Douglas, 31, pleaded guilty in January to conspiring to distribute drugs. He was sentenced earlier this year. Michael Douglas admitted he was at least partially to blame for his son's troubles. "I've taken blame about being a bad father--if being a bad father is working your butt off trying to create a career at one time," the actor told the audience. "I've also confessed that I was in rehab 20 years ago. Look, my son was a drug dealer, and he's been trying to kill himself for a while, and I can't condone his behavior, so I think the court recognized his drug addiction as well as the crime that he committed. And it's an adequate, I think, amount of time for anybody to spend in jail, and the best part of it is, he will be able to start his life afresh."

Isn’t that convenient? Now that the storm has passed, simply assess the damage, and put a new roof on the house. Just start “afresh.” What possible baggage could there be? Pretty slick, Mike. He not only lets the rest of the world accomplish what he could not with his son, but continues to defend the choices he made in making his career the top priority.

So let’s put the cards on the table. If a man is a father, he should be a husband. If his wife or ex-wife makes being a dad difficult, he should persist. He owes it to his children to do right by them, and they need to see him try. He created them, and the problems between him and his wife are not for the children to anxiously work out while he keeps one hand on the exit door.

While parental responsibility may come to a legal end by age 18, one is a parent for life. Should the kids ignore their father because they are 18? Of course not, so why would he suddenly be exempt? President John Kennedy was once asked if he favored one of his children over the other. He simply related that he loved them individually, and love like that had no competition. Why don’t we try some of that? If a child is capable and strong, he or she should be allowed to be so. But a parent shouldn’t assume that a child doesn’t need to hear some appreciation for that show of independence once in awhile. If a child is grown but still needy, a parent should work on supporting and filling what’s empty in that child’s life. I believe that no matter what the situation, a father owes comfort and guidance for his children.

Ron Ciancutti is the Purchasing Manager for Cleveland Metroparks. He is not on Facebook, but he can be reached at rdc@clevelandmetroparks.com

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