Commentary: Lessons From My Father

Michael Steele

Commentary: Lessons From My Father

To our dads, we appreciate your fears and your joys for us because we know how hard it is for you to let go.

Published June 15, 2012

To the dads and soon-to-be dads: Let’s admit it — Father’s Day is one of those “holidays” that even dads are laid back about. In fact, as a young man I never thought much about actually being a father; well at least to the extent that I was planning to become a priest. So, as my stepdad moved from moment to moment in my life, it did not occur to me that he was planting little seeds of information, inspiration and wisdom that I would one day come to rely on in raising my two sons.

What I have discovered for many dads is those moments we have with our children seem to come and go faster and faster leaving little time or room to fully appreciate that our “little ones” are becoming a “young adults” — that is, until you tell her she’s not going out dressed like that; or you demand that your son shave that “mess” off his face.

It’s true at times it may have seemed as if your dad was trying to plan things for you; he really wasn’t. OK, he was (it’s in our nature), but it’s only because as Shakespeare once observed, “It is a wise father that knows his own child.”

Very often it’s hard to appreciate that our journey from infancy to adulthood was as scary for our parents as it was for us. And for many dads, whose role in the home has become the butt of sitcom humor or stereotyped to the point of irrelevancy, that journey remains one of great joy, anticipation and trepidation because, despite the knocks he takes (and sometimes inflicts on himself), he still wants to protect you; and, ultimately, to help you become you. It is, for a dad, a part of the process of letting go.

But what every father knows more than anything else is that being a dad is not about the biological link to a child or about asserting authority over that child or even being a friend, but rather about raising your child to respect and to love him or herself and others. It is about the kind of person that child will be someday.

However, dads can still be a little unorthodox at times.

For example, your dad will spend the first two years of your life teaching you to walk and talk and the next 16 years telling you to sit down and shut up.

Or in the way your dad makes a point. I’m reminded of the dad who tells of the time his progeny came home from school with a report card on which the highest grade was a C-. So, he signed his son’s report card with an “X.” And when his son asked him why he did that he explained because with grades like those he didn’t want his teachers to think he was being raised by people who could actually read and write.

And, of course, every dad knows the quickest way to get your child’s attention is to say, “No!” (I still haven’t figured out why that doesn’t work on my wife.)

I guess sometimes a little unorthodoxy is a good thing particularly as the world around us pushes conflicting and dangerous signals on matters of morals and responsibilities. With my own sons I find myself recalling how my dad helped me define what it means to be a strong, faithful and conscientious person in the face of such challenges.

So to the fathers who care more than they sometimes show, who are at times absent, even when they are there we appreciate your fears and your joys for us because we know how hard it is for you to let go.

I know one day my boys will leave for places far from home — too soon for their mother and not soon enough for me. But I also know they will have been well prepared to confront the world that awaits them because a father’s love, lessons, faith and traditions have been passed on to them as they were passed on to me.

And so it will be for you when your child comes to you for the answer to some of life’s most complex problems, you will, at that moment, think back to your childhood and those pearls of wisdom passed on to you by your father and know instinctively the only possible answer you can give is the one your father gave you: “I don’t know, go ask your mother.”

Happy Father’s Day!

Michael Steele served as the first African-American chairman of the Republican National Committee. He is a former lieutenant governor of Maryland and a political commentator. He will be providing commentary on all things politics for each week.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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Written by Michael Steele


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