A slightly different take on Father’s Day
Fatherhood, my father and the father of our country
Happy Father’s Day weekend my friends,
There will be all manner of thoughtful words written this weekend to celebrate our fathers. My thoughts today would not have been possible had I not been raised by a remarkable man, whose approach to life, is very much the one I’ve taken. To say that I am grateful, would be inadequate as the proper way to describe what he instilled in me. In fact, his and my mother’s parenting have given me a North Star that I could have never found without them. I suspect that most of you feel the same for your fathers this weekend. I hope and pray so.
Dad, the first of his family to go to and graduate from college was like my mother, a veteran. His upbringing was humble, to say the least. In many ways, so was mine but both of us, never seemed to know how humble until we were adults with our own families. Big families, when bonded by love, dad was the 13th and baby of the family, somehow just roll with the punches and find their riches in love, guidance and work.
Dad’s first job out of college, paid for by the GI Bill after he and mom finished their Navy service, was to teach government and history in a small town Middle School. My first books were his collection of history, government and antique books on education. I’d sit for hours in front of his bookshelves made of cinder blocks and pine planks, the only library he could afford. As he moved up the ladder in public education, his interest in comparative religion, history and government was with him step for step. Without even realizing it, I have long followed the same path… gratefully.
Family tradition is to give back, for the blessing of being an American citizen and recipient of, security, our constitution and a good solid, public education. On Mom’s side dominated by preachers and teachers, much the same existed, bountifully.
Without even knowing it, I had assimilated dad’s approach to life and did my best to pass it along to my children. Sometimes I got it right and like most parents, sometimes we never feel like we get it right. The proof comes years later when children become full fledged adults and operate on the same or similar principles.
According to my mom, dad could never say, “no” to anyone needing help. His commitment to his oath of service to the nation never faded and he retired years later from the US Navy Reserve. My path was much the same; like him, joining the military at 17 at the end of the Vietnam War. My son, did the same, 32 years later and during one of my deployments, he was deployed as well, on his ship the USS Stennis. Now he is a remarkable father as well.
A combination of pragmatism, study, dedication to higher principles that benefit the public good, are apparently, family tradition. By the millions, this is the tradition of so many other American families too. While that we are all proud of serving the greater good, it’s never something we wear on our sleeve or what so many today call, “virtue signaling.” It’s just what so many of my countrymen have done from the very beginning. Citizens giving back for the privilege of living in an extraordinary nation, full of opportunity.
If you’re wondering how George Washington, the “father of our country” got into this little family tale, allow me to explain.
Our first POTUS and only independent one, is a role model for all citizens. Having studied and am still entrenched in the study of our founders, George Washington stands alone. The old American proverb about, “getting the right president when we need them,” was certainly true in Washington’s case.
His early life was filled with challenges that he overcame with close observation of circumstances and common-sense, pragmatic analysis. This is the methodology he followed his entire life. His co-founders most often had the most prestigious educations available. They had read and written on the classics, they had rubbed elbows their entire life with the most influential scholars of their time and in fact, were some of those scholars. Most were born into some level of privilege, large or small. Washington though never had the time they had, to follow those elite scholarly paths… he had to work, soldier and lead.
Not content to do the impractical or foolish, his close observation of humans, institutions and circumstances, built within him his own unique way of problem solving… and yes, based on reality, not assumed paradigms common in colonial America. He despised the indebtedness to London bankers of most plantation owners. He developed his own approach to not allowing himself to become irrevocably indebted by building a self sustaining farm where goods were made locally, not purchased from England at high prices.
He learned that reality mattered very early and vowed to not repeat mistakes others or he himself had made. He found solutions that were to become his style of leadership throughout the French and Indian wars, the Revolution and as our first POTUS. There was no political ideology worth his time other than that of Cincinnatus, Cato and other ancient leaders. As Thomas Ricks describes in detail in his recent book, First Principles, the Roman concept of virtue was Washington’s North Star. To be a proper Roman citizen was to be virtuous. Originally, virtue only applied to men. Women exemplifying the proper Roman female was to be prudent or prudential. The qualities of virtue, Roman style are something Washington pursued and improved on his entire life.
If Washington didn’t have time to go to university and be taught by elite scholars, he’d just patten himself on the most virtuous role models he could. He succeeded beyond his wildest dreams and with his virtue in tact, laid the foundation for American values, by example, not just words.
We could have hardly of had a better role model for our first POTUS. The elite philosophical arguments of his colleagues were never lost on him, and he listened and studied his notes carefully. He connected the philosophy of founders like Jefferson, Madison, Adams etc, to the real world and how to implement the principles most likely to help our fledgling republic succeed. In short, he had very clear view of his role in history. That he worked so diligently to firm up those principles in himself, shows just how dedicated he was to building something better than the world had ever seen. He succeeded.
To bring this full circle from how I strive to emulate my father, his hero’s and role models, it is Washington that is the nucleus of how I celebrate fathers this weekend. I see a nation hungry for these principles again. I see an endless stream of fathers doing their best and the overwhelming majority succeeding. If it were up to me in this phase of US history battling against fake principles, I highly recommend teaching more about Washington and less about influencers. More about his work ethic and pragmatism and yes, more about virtue.
My dad did as Washington role-modeled. He patterned his life on heroes like Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Madison and more. His father, who I loved dearly, had a 3rd grade education. He also was Washington-like but in a very different way. He was pragmatic, hard working, honest and in my mind, virtuous. Like Washington, he also had a wicked sense of humor. This by the way, is a great story. It was one of his practical jokes that led to him being booted out of his one room schoolhouse permanently, in third grade. Remind me to tell you this one some day. It’s a classic.
For those lucky enough to still have their fathers, try and see what they have tried to do for you. Try to see how they tried to pay it forward for your family, whether they said it out loud or not. The best mentorship is often by example. All humans have flaws, but good fathers, work through them and try to role model the methods to overcome them. My dad did this for me. I have tried the same with my children. President George Washington did it for all of us that came afterwards. We are all heirs to his legacy and will succeed as a nation, beyond our wildest dreams, if we can just pay more attention to our birthright of the virtuous principles, so prestigiously emblematic of the “father of our country.”
Happy Father’s Day, one and all.