Tony Woodlief | Author

A Different Kind of Father’s Day Gift

Rick Hilton needs a swift kick in the ass. That’s my opinion on the never-ending Paris Hilton spectacle. And while we’re at the butt-kicking, we can line up any number of successful businessmen, movie stars, and sports heroes who have neglected the fundamental duty of fathers, which is to train up our children in the way they should go. We could turn it into an annual Father’s Day weekend tradition: the 24-hour Tail Stomp, open season on every bad father. I think it would be cathartic. And before someone else claims him, I’ve got dibs on Alec Baldwin.

It’s interesting that we celebrate the success of men at business, sports, entertainment, war, and politics, but rarely at the thing which matters more than those often-ephemeral feats, the raising up of confident, competent, moral, courageous children to carry on a free and prosperous civilization. Not to wrestle with this great calling every day of our lives, fathers, is to fail at manhood itself.

I’m not saying that we are failures if our children don’t end up perfect. But we are failures if they emerge without a moral compass, and genuine self-confidence (which should not be confused with arrogance, which is often a sign of insecurity), and some fundamental ability to earn a living. Hence Rick Hilton’s need for a kick in the rear-end, at least from my very limited vantage-point, because his daughter seems to lack all three. Insofar as she earns a living, it’s Donald Trump-style, off the outrageousness of her own conduct. That’s not value-creation, it’s a freak show.

In the last days of his life, as Teddy Roosevelt collaborated with editor Joseph Bishop on a bound volume of his letters to his children, he said, “I would rather have this book published than anything that has ever been written about me.” These letters don’t contain much in the way of TR’s exploits on the battlefield, or his political victories. Instead they tell his children about a curious lizard he caught in Cuba, or explain how proud he is that they have learned to ride their horses better, or admonish them not to let sports get in the way of what’s important. They are letters that reflect his love of and hopes for his children. Being a good father, he recognized that this was his most important legacy, his family.

I’ve met a great many men over the years who have been so seduced by the lure of business success that they neglect their children. I can’t describe for you the remorse that I’ve heard in some of their voices, as they sit in their beautiful, empty homes, and say that they wish they could do it over, and be fathers to their children. But there is no doing it over; there is only right now, the choices you make today — and each choice constrains what choices will be available to us tomorrow. Can Rick Hilton spend time with his daughter now, and convince her that she is truly lovely, that she needn’t whore herself out to the men and the lights and the cameras? That work should have been done years ago. But, he does have that thriving real estate business, and several palatial homes. He’s what we call successful.

Perhaps we need to redefine that word. The worst part is that Hilton probably told himself, as do so many of us, that he was doing it for his family, the twelve-hour days and endless travel and weekend work. Beyond some basic necessities, however, what our children need most is us, the very thing we so often deny them.

I find that more and more, when I hear or read about a successful man, I say to myself: Yes, but what kind of father is he? It’s worth asking, don’t you think? Don’t be surprised if you end up unable to find someone to vote for next fall, however, or if your favorite actors and sports stars lose some of their luster. But that’s how it should be, I think. Maybe men will stop sacrificing our children on the altar of success when we reintroduce shame as a public concept.

Goodness knows, I don’t get it right. I’ve lost count of the number of evenings I’ve put my head on my pillow in shame, wishing I could rewind the day, and take back a moment when I barked at one of my boys, or ignored them when I should have been listening. But I wonder if it even crosses the minds of many successful men that they are failing as fathers, and therefore, as men. I want to believe that this in itself makes a difference, the conscious striving. Weak and foolish as we are, maybe we can still succeed as fathers if we will just put forth the effort. Maybe that’s all our sons and daughters really need from us, the unspoken love that comes with that striving.

So, fathers, are you striving?

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