Mothers are important. We all know this, and even if we didn't every media communication tells us so. "As a mother, I'm outraged," say mothers on the news about child abuse. "As a mother I have maternal instincts," say mothers on talk shows about mothering. "As a mother..." say mothers on Facebook about everything else. And on and on. Sometimes it feels that, with all this attention paid to mothers, fathers take a back seat in the importance of raising a child.
Mothers, the good ones anyway, do all sorts of things for children. Women are nesters. Moms often (although not always) take on the tasks of cooking and clean beds and clean clothes and comfort. Women are supposedly the gentler sex and are there with soft hands when the boy arrives home with a boo-boo, having been tossed around by the schoolyard bully. Dad's alleged job is then to take the boy, now bandaged, and teach him some skills of defense. At least, that's what our cultural media has taught us, from Leave It To Beaver to Rosanne to Malcolm In The Middle.
In reality, though, there may be no more important figure than a dad, and not because he can teach his son how to block a punch. The gifts of a father to a child, and particularly to a boy child, are lessons no mother can teach. How to treat a girl, and later, a woman, with kindness and respect. That putting an animal out of its misery after being hit by a car isn't the same as killing that animal for fun. A father teaches a son the value of hard work, how to support himself, and a family, and later, if necessary, the elderly parents who raised him. A father teaches a son to be strong and gentle, to be honest and true and to stand in a storm. To fight, when necessary; to walk away, when necessary; and the wisdom to know the difference. A father teaches a son to protect loved ones at all costs, and that it isn't an affront to his manhood to bring a cup of coffee -- or a Diet Coke -- to a wife still tucked in morning quilts. Moms are important, we have no doubt of this. But a good father is a blessing from the gods. He fills in those vital human puzzle pieces that a good mother, try as she might, cannot.
My friend Ed lost his father this week. I didn't know Ed's dad, but I know Ed, and perhaps have never encountered a more genuine soul. Ed is a man who, when a bold criminal walked into Ed's wife's kitchen to steal a box of CDs, chased the culprit down the street, into a store, and slammed him up against the wall (the CDs returned home). Ed is also a man who, upon finding a dead robin in the driveway, lifts the bird gently and buries it in the back yard, because "all creatures need a decent grave." Ed is an artist, and a carpenter, both skills he accomplishes with love and perfection. Ed is a good cook. He can fix anything, in fact could build a house alone if so challenged. He tends to a garden well, and tends to his family better. He is not a man to cross, yet placed a tiny American flag on the grave of his cat, Red, an animal he still mourns after many years. Ed is a man of principal, a man of adjectives: warm, rugged, affectionate, flinty, hospitable, stern, tender, funny, creative. If we could assign only one word to my friend Ed, however, that word would be whole.
Before his death, Ed's father was comforted by his only boy, now grown. Ed held his father's hand, combed his hair, told him how much he was loved. Now Ed will stand tough and go about tending to final business for his family as his father taught him to do. I did not need to meet Ed's dad to know his qualities. In Ed's every action, in every word, I see his father because of the son he produced, a son with ethics and grit and heart.
For Ed: though a piece of you is gone, rejoice. You were one of the lucky. And you made your daddy proud.