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?


  1. Coleen

    Iam right behind you on this one! SO now Mr Hilton is gonna be the enabler to his daughters drinking problem! yeah throw her a party with alcohol and watch her go throught this all over again! Great parenting skills! ALL Parents, need to teach thier children respect for the law, not they are above the law and do what ever they want to do. If Paris is serious about changing then she should stop her father from having this party and let her regroup when she gets out!

  2. Trena

    OK…While I agree with you about the importance of a parent’s role in instilling a ‘moral compass’ in his/her children, I also find it interesting that a 26-year-old woman is repeatedly held (by the media and everyone else) as responsible for her own actions as a child. This woman has nearly a decade on the men and women currently entrusted with fighting the nation’s battles in Iraq, but I continue to see her characterized as a ‘girl’. Clearly, her actions show no personal accountability…but when no one(parents included) seem to want to hold her accountable for them, is there any wonder?
    We can have lots of fun blaming her parents, her financial status/lifestyle, the media and society in general, but when are we going to blame the woman herself? She’s been old enough to make her own decisions for quite awhile now.

  3. Total Depravity

    A Different Kind of Father’s Day Gift

    This Sunday is Father’s Day, a fact which I completely forgot while I was sprinting my way from Terminal 1 to Terminal 3 at Heathrow. Cards are gonna be late this year, collective Dads! Author and blogfather Tony Woodlief hasn’t…

  4. Tim Murphy

    My dear sir, I just read your marvelous essay at Opinion Journal. I learned the manly arts from my father, Yale, and the Boy Scouts. I am gay, so I shall not be fathering adorable boys like yours. But the children’s poet Robert Schechter, whose son is three, can make a contribution to your earnest efforts, as I can when the boys are MUCH older. Please use your search engine to find the Eratosphere, the foremost formal poetry site on the net. Go to distinguished guest, where my interlocutors are Jim Hayes, Robert Schechter (Roger Slater), and John Beaton. You will find manliness on full display in the oldest art since cave painting. Happy Father’s Day.

  5. Dilip Patel

    Great article and I totally agree with you on the morale compass thing. BUT you probably need to give Alec Baldwin a break. Just like you (and I) were ignorant regarding child ‘development’ (that was before we became the fantastic Dads now of course) we couldn’t understand what it was like to have kids. Your kids like mine are small and probably still roam in the world of innocence and ‘Uncle Buckness’. Alec strikes me as someone who is trying to be a good Dad (if you read through the ramblings you can see he’s had enough of the disrespect served to him by his daughter). It also seems obvious that there is friction between his kids/wife and him. BUT he ultimately cares and is trying to teach his kid the meaning of respect, although granted he didn’t excercise too much discretion.
    I suppose what I’m trying to say is we are all going to fluff something on this road called Fatherhood, but lets leave the hobnail boots for the real dead beat dads like Rick Hilton who never even tried to show his daugher the right path and prevent her going of the rails..

    We Dads are easy targets, because we rarely get oranized and we tend to not really give a Sh^tck and we’ll also sell each other out when our respective other halfs ask us to.
    Society paints us as nothing but fat lazy resident handy men. This Fathers day I made a special effort to look at the medias idea of cool presents for dad. There was only one article I saw for something decent to buy dad – a rolex watch- everything else was for tools, workbenchs etc etc. Now when you look at mothers day the media all of sudden turns into the Debeers network. The very mention of the purchase of an appliance would cast you into the pits of hades.
    I mentioned this fact to my wife the other day and she gave me that look that said “yeah duh, whats your point?”.

    Anyway I thought I would share that with you, you know us Dads we have useful advice for everyone !

  6. Gary

    Tony, I’m in general agreement with you — it’s certainly seems the case that Paris Hilton really doesn’t understand what was wrong with her conduct or why she’s facing prison time. She seems not to have any of the context necessary to begin to comprehend it.

    But this comment you offer doesn’t make sense to me: “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.”

    Sure, it’s Donald Trump-style, but why is a freak show that people willingly pay to see not value-creating?

    If she can earn $1mm by showing up at a party, because the promoters believe it will attract customers and (in whatever warped universe) enhance their brand . . .

    One may believe that certain kinds of subjective value ought not be indulged. But that’s not the same as denying the increase in subjective value that comes from the conduct.

  7. KC

    “the 24-hour Tail Stomp, open season on every bad father” — that is a pretty good idea! Dads tend not to criticize other dads (the whole glass houses thing, I think), but once a year it would probably do some good.

  8. Lincoln S.

    I hope to God that striving counts for something. Every night at bedtime, I try to feel the weight of a day spent with the kids, sharing stories, playing games, loving tough, and not interfering at the wrong times. I strive to quantify the influence I’ve dealt on my own three. Some nights, I can smile, knowing I’ve brought forth some bit of wisdom, some laughter, some real understanding of a world impossible to make sense of. And some days I come up short, feeling nothing substantial in that fatherly hand.

    Knowing other men make those same mistakes and wonder these same things definitely helps. Thanks, Tony.

  9. Adam

    Very poignant post.

    I agree with your entry and am happy to report that in Chicago last week, 130 deadbeat dads who owe a total of more than $1.5 million in child support were arrested by Cook County Sheriff’s Police during a weeklong “Operation Father’s Pay.” See http://www.suntimes.com/news/metro/432384,CST-NWS-deadbeat18.article for the full article.

    If only more counties took this approach toward deadbeats who tarnish modern fatherhood.

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