Our Choice of Fathers

[NB: check the byline, thanks. /~Rayne]

Happy Father’s Day to all the fathers in our community, to the fathers-by-proxy who’ve stood in place of missing fathers, to the mothers and others who’ve had to take on more than one parenting role.

Happy Father’s Day to my friends who aren’t parents at all – may you enjoy the convenient gender-biased hardware marketing blitz aimed at the do-it-yourself dads among us.

(I’m really going to enjoy my new power rotary multi-tool, must say. Been needing one for years and this summer I’ve got a lot of projects a certain father here won’t touch – it’s on me.)

This day offers us not only a chance to thank fathers but to think about fatherhood. It’s hard to escape fathers and fathering in a patriarchal society, but perhaps this is a best reason to consider the nature of fathers.

Especially when this year’s presidential election once again comes down to a choice of fathers.

~ ~ ~

The Los Angeles Times has an excellent piece on its front page below the fold today – Biden, Trump and 2 Very Different Dads – comparing and contrasting fathers Joe Biden and Donald Trump, and their progenitors Joe Biden Sr. and Fred Trump. (Sorry – I want to share a link but LAT makes it impossible for subscribers to do so this soon after publication. As I wrote this it wasn’t available on the LAT website. Article now available at LAT but the headline has changed to Biden brings up ‘Dad’ a lot. Trump, not so much.)

In essence the article describes a father who values dignity and a father who values transactions.

What a distillation.

While we’ve already made comparisons between these two candidates at the polls in 2020, the essentials of these two men have only become more stark over the last four years.

They exemplify neatly George Lakoff’s Moral Politics model of the nurturant parent and strict father which Lakoff first laid out in 1996, again in 2001 and 2016 editions, and discussed further in his 2010 text, Thinking Politics in Chapter 4, The Nation as Family. (Thinking Politics is available for free online for download as a PDF.)

It’s telling that Lakoff categorizes a bifurcated diametric model as nurturant parent and strict fatherpatriarchy is autocratic, rejects departures from black-and-white, wrong-or-right, my-way-or-the-highway binary thinking. Do as your father orders you to do.

The nurturant parent model is inclusive, in contrast. Any gender can identify as and model nurturing. Nurturing is adaptive, because needs change with conditions though fundamental values affirming the dignity of humanity remain set.

Which parent of this nation should we choose at the polls?

I can’t help think of a particular story about Trump as father, in the wake of Hunter Biden’s conviction and Joe Biden’s loving response.

Before the 2016 election, a classmate of Donnie Jr. recounted an episode of physical abuse they felt necessary to share with the public before voters went to the polls.

I was hanging out in a freshman dorm with some friends, next door to Donald Jr.’s room. I walked out of the room to find Donald Trump at his son’s door, there to pick him up for a baseball game. There were quite a few students standing around watching, trying to catch a glimpse of the famed real estate magnate. Don Jr. opened the door, wearing a Yankee jersey. Without saying a word, his father slapped him across the face, knocking him to the floor in front of all of his classmates. He simply said “put on a suit and meet me outside,” and closed the door.

A father willing to do this to his own namesake in front of witnesses, a father who apparently failed to assist his son whose classmate called him a “drunk,” isn’t the kind of person Americans needed in 2016 or in 2024 in the White House.

Reports surfacing only now that Trump while in the White House talked about executing persons including those who leaked information is extremely troubling. What if it had been his own family members leaking information?

If we are a nation as family, whoever the prospective leaker might be is family – and Trump has expressed a willingness to kill them.

Trump has already displayed openly a bent toward violence. The extrajudicial assassination of Iran’s Major General Qasem Soleimani was a demonstration of Trump using violence at the furthest reaches and beyond of his presidential powers. We have heard and read numerous examples of his incitement to violence including the attack on the capitol on January 6. What would he do to Americans at home and abroad if he was elected again?

And of course Trump has already promised retribution against his perceived enemies if he should be re-elected.

Which parent should we choose, indeed.

At least this election we still have this choice. Choose wisely.

37 replies
  1. Rayne says:

    I’ll come back and insert a link to the LAT article when it’s available and when I’m done baking some Father’s Day treats for that dude whose rejection of home decorating projects forced me to buy a rotary multi-tool.

    P.S. If some of you have noticed your comments going into auto-moderation unexpectedly of late, it may be because of typos in your Name/Email/URL fields. There has been a MUCH higher than average number of typos which I have had to clean up to clear comments. I wish I could point them out every time but the comment threads would be wallpapered with YOU MADE A TYPO IN YOUR USERNAME CHECK YOUR BROWSER’S CACHE AND AUTOFILL. Most are a simple slip of the digit like an n instead of m or a dropped letter.

    Please, I beg you, check your entries before submitting and save us all some frustration. Thanks.

  2. Christina Doucette says:

    My dad. Alcoholic, not present for most of my childhood. Didn’t seem to care that my brother and I were malnourished, poor, in and out of foster homes and relatives’ homes. My core childhood memories of him are few, but they represent the happiest times. When he started going to AA, my mom dropped us off “for the summer” and we survived the neglect as he put in the effort to improve himself. He came to live with me 20 years ago and stayed for years and months as he bounced around. He’s been with me again during his declining years. I owe him nothing, but I grasp onto those handful of memories as I provide for him, trying not to go down the rabbit hole of resentment. I wait for him to die with sadness, disappointment, and love.

    • Rayne says:

      Very sorry your experience with your father has been so difficult. I can’t help think of this bit in the 1989 movie Parenthood:

      Helen: I guess a boy Garry’s age really needs a man around.

      Tod: Well, it depends on the man. I had a man around. He used to wake me up every morning by flicking lit cigarettes at my head “Hey, asshole, get up and make me breakfast.” You know, Mrs. Buckman, you need a license to buy a dog, or drive a car. Hell, you need a license to catch a fish! But they’ll let any butt-reaming asshole be a father.

      Not all of our fathers should have been “licensed” to become one.

      Many of us in the sandwich generation are now waiting as you are — you are not alone. Hang in there.

      • John Paul Jones says:

        A favourite movie, and a favourite scene, because – of course – I thought about my own father’s relative lack of skills, and his narcissism and his insecurities.

        People sometimes forget that Keanu was even in the film, but I can’t read that speech without hearing his precise delivery.

    • Clare Kelly says:

      While tears are still streaming down my cheeks, I thank you for your moving, and insightful post.

  3. P J Evans says:

    My father died 30 years and a month ago. My memories of him are tangled with the cat for whom he was Person, and who disappeared a month after he died, on Father’s Day. We never found a trace…so I’m going to believe that the cat went looking for him, and he came and got her.
    I treasure the hug I got from him, the last time they came out to California.

      • P J Evans says:

        All the cats liked him. But Sammy would sleep on the floor next to him, when he was napping, and would let him brush her until she was done (three or four times, on each side). And not long before he died, we were out in the back half, and she came out crying, because he was Out Beyond The Windbreak, Unprotected.

      • P J Evans says:

        Adding, here, was he a great father? No. But he wasn’t a drunk, or a sadist, and he didn’t fuss about having two daughters who got lost in hardware stores. (IIRC, we weren’t treated like we would break if we played in the dirt – I loved building dams in the gutter! – and we didn’t get dolls more than about once each.)

  4. JustMusing says:

    As a father of two and granddad of two, I’ve had the most unreasonably good fortune to not repeat my father’s parenting mistakes. The rewards have been boundless, not only with my children, but with my granddaughters as well. Walls adorned with artwork, countless times at the beach, invigorating play times, my son teaching me about Japanese cars and me teaching him about British ones, or just snuggling on the couch to watch a Disney film. There is no treasure or thing that could replace those moments or the ones to come. Nothing is more precious to me than hearing from each of them, “I love you”. Happy Father’s Day one and all.

  5. David Brooks says:

    Although my relationship with my eldest son is strained, I am delighted to have just attended his son’s graduation, summa cum laude. His is probably the only one I will witness; when the next is due I will be pushing 85.

    So, extra happy grandfather’s day to me.

    • Rayne says:

      Fingers crossed you make the next one and then some.

      My FIL made his great-granddaughter’s high school graduation this week at age 94 so we know it’s possible. LOL If he’s demonstrated how to make it, just be bloody ornery and don’t let the devil take you until you’re damned well ready.

  6. Pick2OrPass says:

    Were it not for becoming a father I’m not sure I would have known true love, and purpose this lifetime. For these I’m most grateful, and for the past decade or so, (just about) every day has been a gift.

    Very, very proud to be a part of that unspoken fraternal order of other fathers who seem to also get it.

    And also a very kind thank you to all the moms out there, too, for making it possible.

  7. MsJennyMD says:

    Thank you Rayne for this post.

    Yesterday, I celebrated Father’s Day with my 94 year old Daddy who is mentally sharp, witty, wise, generous and loving. Physically he has slowed down, however he still drives, cooks and has a large wine collection. Years ago, my father helped raise my nephew who was physically assaulted by a family member. He immediately rescued my nephew, took him in and raised him as his son. My father gave him a home, guidance and put him through college. At the dinner table, my nephew raised his wine glass to toast his grandfather thanking him for his support, generosity and unconditional love. A heartfelt and tearful moment.

    • Sussex Trafalgar says:

      He sounds like an Angel!

      And I love that he has a large wine collection!

      I bet he has many fun stories about wine!

  8. LeftsidePortland says:

    I’m a dad. Nothing to do with me, but my daughter is one of the most incredible people I’ve ever known. Proud every day to be associated with her. Didn’t have any idea that I would feel this level of pride and well, amazement, as a parent. Being her dad definitely made me a better person.

  9. Skillethead says:

    My dad was far stricter than he needed to be and we often resented him for that. My brothers and I all did a 180 in our parenting approach. Once, my dad and I were talking in my living room and my then 8 year old son came running in, tripped, and crashed my stereo setup. I yelled, “Ben!” and he looked up wondering how much trouble he was in. I dropped down to the floor and started tickling him. Then I said, “Come on, let’s get this back together.” He hadn’t meant to do anything wrong, just being a kid.

    When we were done, I told him to be more careful inside the house and he took off. My dad turned to me and said, “I wish you had been my dad.”

    And then I realized he was parenting in the only example he had, and was probably kinder than his dad had been. Softened many of my recollections.

    • LadyHawke says:

      “Softened many of my recollections.” How wonderful for him to cause that.
      I’m late to these comments, but I wanted to thank you for sharing your story. Parenthood often causes me to re-evaluate my childhood experiences, usually in a positive way.

  10. holdingsteady says:

    Thanks everybody, for sharing – I really love hearing your stories. Today is sunny and warm and our family of 4 will be together.
    Rayne, I admire you for taking on the job with your new tool ! And thanks for moderating and putting up with all of the work, it is appreciated !

  11. bloopie2 says:

    Well, I told my children how much I loved them all, and they replied the same. “We love you Dad”. So that’s good. But then I remembered that I missed this for Mother’s Day, so maybe I’ll repurpose it for Father’s Day. Something I ran across a number of years ago and which brings me to tears every time I read it. May be nothing new to you all. Other than perhaps copyright, I think it is too valuable to hold quiet; just substitute “father“ for mother”. I can only pray that some day my children will see me in this, at least a little. “A Mother’s Parable”, by Temple Bailey.

    The young mother set her foot on the path of Life. “Is the way long?” she asked. And her Guide said: “Yes, and the way is hard. And you will be old before you reach the end of it. But the end will be better than the beginning.”

    But the young mother was happy, and she would not believe that anything could be better than these years. So she played with her children, and gathered flowers for them along the way, and bathed with them in the streams, and the sun shone on them, and life was good, and the young mother cried: “Nothing will ever be lovelier than this.”

    Then night came, and storm, and the path was dark, and the children shook with fear and cold, and the mother drew them close and covered them with her mantle and the children said: “Oh, Mother, we are not afraid for you are near, and no harm can come.” And the mother said: “This is better than the brightest of days, for I have taught my children courage.”

    And the morning came and there was a hill ahead, and the children climbed and grew weary, and the mother was weary, but at all times she said to the children: “A little patience and we are there.”

    So the children climbed, and when they reached the top, they said: “We could not have done it without you, Mother.” And the mother, when she lay down that night, looked up at the stars and said: “This is a better day than the last, for my children have learned fortitude in the face of difficulty. Yesterday I gave them courage, Today I have given them strength.”

    And the next day came strange clouds which darkened the earth – clouds of war and hate and evil, and the children groped and stumbled, and the mother said: “Look up! Lift your eyes to the light.” And the children looked and saw above the clouds an Everlasting Glory, and it guided them beyond the darkness. And that night the mother said: “This is the best day of all, for I have shown my children God.”

    And the days went on, and the months and the years, and the mother grew old, and she was small and bent. But her children were strong and tall and walked with courage. And when the way was hard, they helped their mother; and when the way was rough they lifted her, for she was as light as a feather; and at last they came to a hill, and beyond the hill they could see a shining road and golden gates flung wide. And the mother said: “I have reached the end of my journey. And now I know that the end is better than the beginning, for my children can walk alone, and their children after them.”

    And the children said: “You will always walk with us, Mother, even when you have gone through the gates.” And they stood and watched her as she went on alone, and the gates closed after her. And they said: “We cannot see her, but she is with us. A mother like ours is more than a memory. She is a living presence.”

    • David Brooks says:

      Oh, oh, oh, thank you! I have recently being assuring myself and others: I know I will live into the 22nd century because I have made myself part of my young granddaughters. Not selfishly; it is who I am. And I know they will pass their Gran’s many aphorisms to their own grandchildren.

  12. Allagashed says:

    To borrow a line from David James Duncan, I grew up on an unwatched channel. And I thank my father every day for that gift. Benign neglect, but always with a veil of approval surrounding his attitude towards me. Guardrails? There were damn few. “Go for it, what’s the worst that could happen?” he would say with a big grin. The family motto was, “If it isn’t bleeding it doesn’t count”. He’s still here, still being dad. I put him on a 4 wheeler last week and sent him off into the pasture to play. My mother was horrified. “What’s the worst that could happen?” I said.

    • Rayne says:

      There’s a reason many states now have child protective services. Benign neglect is still neglect; benign may not be so if state and local codes are violated, and reasonable measures for safety are ignored, like ensuring proper safety gear is worn or allowing a child too small and/or too young to use power tools or vehicles and without adequate supervision.

      My father practiced benign neglect, too, but that’s because he grew up neglected and didn’t know any better. I had a trip to the ER because of that benign neglect, one I could have done without given simple pre-emptive effort on dad’s part. It’s a shame it took two generations to replace that neglect with appropriate levels of supervision.

  13. Error Prone says:

    It is interesting, reminiscing in the comments. Nobody touching the Biden – Trump dimension. A concern with Trump is if he loses again, he can keep coming back as long as his party tolerates it. Don’t you expect Ted and Marco are hoping he wins? Nikki too.

    I am trying to learn ins and outs of Project 2025. The best I can make of it, starting the consideration, is it is Heritage Foundation guile which offers the replacement – paranoid white proletariat a chance for revenge against itself. Oh my! Tucker Carlson will not harvest lettuce or load melons, but somebody will, roofing work will become more expensive, and supermarket prices will reflect things that those shocked SHOCKED by current produce prices will wonder over without connecting dots. You take away Social Security, take away Medicare, and surplus eaters will be going back to work. GOTV among those who understand is critical because so many do not. Beguiling some will be a slam dunk. Because they feel Angst, you feed and channel that Angst. We face a challenge.

  14. Clare Kelly says:

    I wish to thank Rayne for this cathartic column, and those who shared their stories.

    Father’s Day has become a mixed bag for me as my son never got to meet my Dad, and his own father is incapable of the humor, wisdom, nor the unconditional love I wished for him. I tried to make up for it.

    I received a delivery of Mochi Donuts with a note: “Happy Father’s Day, Dad! Love, [my son’s name]”.

    They are delicious and kicked me out of the maudlin place I dwelled for a minute.

    In addition, thank you for the timely reminder about the character of our choice for governance.

    Rayne wrote:

    “Which parent should we choose, indeed.

    At least this election we still have this choice. Choose wisely.”

  15. gruntfuttock says:

    ‘I’m really going to enjoy my new power rotary multi-tool, must sy. Been needing one for years and this summer I’ve got a lot of projects a certain father here won’t touch – it’s on me.’

    Me, being a bloke, I’m supposed to love that shit. Nope. One of my female workmates, on the other hand, she’s really into that stuff. And that’s fine, people are different, that’s what makes life interesting, at least to me.

    My Dad. He never hugged me or showed much emotion (until his last few years) but he never beat the crap out of me either. He was a nice guy who worked really hard to help his community. He cared about people and tried to help them. I loved him and I miss him. Biden reminds me of him.

    Trump reminds me that the abused become the abusers.

  16. ernesto1581 says:

    Thought hard about posting this…anyway, here goes.

    For us male persons growing up & coming of age in the ’50’s & ’60’s, it’s good to reflect how many of our fathers 1) were first generation US, born of immigrant fathers who were too busy working 60-70 hours a week to “be friends” with their boys, and 2) were veterans of the Second War who returned home, as has been the case with soldiers since the beginning of time, to uncomprehending families and communities. Changed men, in many cases damaged men, with no way to make themselves understood concerning the obscenities they had witnessed or taken part in during their own formative years. There was no such thing as PTSD in 1946. There was very little beyond, “Well, you’re home and you’re alive — just get on with it!”

    Many had neither a model of fathering as they grew up, did not necessarily have a way of dealing with either their spouses or their noisy children as they moved through their ’30’s and middle age. Nor a real sense of what might be possible in terms of masculinity beyond fatherhood (that is, beyond progeniture.) It helps explain the bittersweet, sometimes painful, memories of our fathers many of us find ourselves sharing at wakes and funerals as we age out. Closer to home, some of us ourselves may have returned as damaged goods from Vietnam, and may have had difficulties similar to those our fathers had post-war.

    I do not really know how I became a good father and raised three fine, interesting young people together with my wife. It wasn’t magic. I know it had very much to do with the strong women in my life, but I broke my hump to make it happen. So there’s that, I suppose. Our kids, all in their forties now, are our best friends.

  17. wetzel-rhymes-with says:

    I am a man who owns his house free and clear. I had managed to get about 2/3 through the note, but paid the last bit with the last 30 acres we have from an original very large holding, divided up through five generations until my grandfather and his brothers eked out life raising hogs and growing tobacco on 50 acres each. The land came into the family via our patriarch, an overseer on a Florida Plantation owned by the Dupont family in the 1840’s. From the chronology, the man escaped the Irish Potato Famine. Happy Juneteenth, America’s greatest holiday, and some very sweet and well-deserved paid-time-off, for me. What I’m doing is situating it with my family’s little country church, congregation 11 people, and the African American Methodist and Baptist church to try to bring about something positive. The people down there are having funerals in what must be one of the last segregated cemeteries in the country, the responsibility of my family really, and a few other families in the church I grew up in, so we’re going to remove the chain link fence and replace it with two weeping angels and a flagstone path between, maybe. It will all get worked out. Some friends from Atlanta and I will crew out and do the installation. Many white people do not understand the concept of “reparations” like I do. For me it has to be something I can take to the Lord in prayer and ask forgiveness as the scion, really, more than any of my cousins.

  18. timbozone says:

    My pops was a political junky, and so much so that he would watch tons of TV when he retired, unbearably too much TV. He also wasn’t the greatest dad, not even close (he was an adherent of Skinner actually, ugh), but he didn’t let us starve nor did he fail to keep a roof over our heads always, and during the hardest times at a great cost to his academic goals, etc. That latter part is worthy of note, given how many folks I’ve known over the decades who had no dad or, even worse, homeless addict dads that continued to be a burden or a danger, dad’s who were randomly sighted at a distance, etc. So, while my dad was far from perfect, at least I had a father who respected the idea of family and working hard to ensure that there was always a refuge somewhere in the world for all of his kids.

    To his credit, I believe he would have fully supported the idea of a Juneteenth National Holiday had he lived long enough to see it come to fruition. So, on behalf of him and so many “traditional liberals” from the end of the 20th century, the full recognition of the end of slavery in the US under law— Happy Juneteenth!

Comments are closed.