June 17, 2012
The video of our two-and-a-half-year-old grandson attempting to say his name cracked us all up. The tyke sailed through his first and middle names, but he stumbled over his formidable Dutch surname. He couldnt pronounce it.
I cannot say his name either, not here. There is a lion in the streets, seeking whom he may devour. Theres a trial in Pennsylvania for an accused lion now. Predators also stalk the Web.
As my grandson struggled, I felt a pang. For millions of American children, saying their fathers name will not be possible. Millions of children are growing up fatherless. For them, Fathers Day rings hollow. Its more a hope, an aspiration, than a daily reality. Today, the out-of-wedlock birth rate is greater than four in ten.
Seeing my grandson made me so grateful that he has a mother and dad who love and protect him. I also had married parents. And I needed my fathers protection.
I recall the scene from half a century ago. As ten year olds, my friend Shane and I played forts in the large, empty fields near our Long Island home. One day, we were shocked to find the owner of the property advancing on us menacingly. He held a shotgun. He pointed the weapon at us and said if he ever caught us on his land again, he would shoot us.
Terrified, Shane and I ran home. When my father came home from work as a carpenter, he sent Shane home and took me back to the place where the incident had occurred. Then, gripping my hand with an iron clasp, he marched me up to the owners large mansion. Later I learned that the man with the shotgun was the 16th Lord of the Manor, a landowner whose property descended from a royal grant of King Charles II.
My father banged on the door and called out to the 16th Lord. Is this the man who pointed the gun at you, he asked me when the owner appeared. Y-y-yes, I said, more frightened than I had ever been. Confronting the 16th Lord, my father said: Ill keep my son and his friends off your property, Mister. But if I ever hear of you pointing a gun at little boys again, Ill come back and break it over your head!
I thought my father was the bravest man in the world. I still do. He knew, though, when not to intervene. When a neighbor boy, Gary, taunted me beyond endurance, I resolved to have it out with him. My mother was really upset. Dont let him go back to the fight, she pleaded with my father, hes all bloody. I fought it out with Gary for what seemed hours. My father told my mother to let me handle it.
The great abolitionist, Frederick Douglass, famously wrote that when he fought back against his tormentor, the infamous Negro breaker Covey, it was his resurrection as a man. Frederick didnt have a father as I did, one to protect and guide him. Fatherlessness is not a new phenomenon in America. It has always been a tragedy. Only now, its a deliberate policy.
President Obama might have been the model and the defender of fatherhood. In endorsing marriage of persons of the same sex, however, he is saying fathers are optional. President Obamas fictional character, Julia, relies on government from birth to retirement. There is no man in her life. No father, no husband, not even brothers. She is married to the state. Julia might have been created by liberal Gloria Steinem, who said: A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle. Women do need men, just as men need women. And all of us need fathers.