My Fathers’ Day Reflections
Tibor R. Machan
On my drive to work the other day I was listening to the local all news radio station and suddenly I am hearing President Obama chiming in with one of those “public service” messages on how fathers should comport themselves toward their children. Maybe this was supposed to be in honor of fathers’ day.
Gee, I had no idea that this is a presidential task, nor that anyone from Washington, DC, could possibly be familiar enough with my family situation to take up the task of advising me on these matters. I figured that Mr. Obama has a full enough plate with, say, being commander in chief guiding the military to do its proper duty, to protect our rights, being the presiding officer for the federal government, raising the funds needed by government to take care of the enormous debt that’s been accumulated by its profligacy over the last several decades, not to mention all the diplomatic problems and challenges he faces around the globe so he could leave the task of acquiring the skills of parenting to us, the citizenry.
But no. Here he is again, deploying his one-size-fits-all social philosophy, kind of like a totalitarian statesman is supposed to do. I recall when I was growing up under the Soviet socialist regime that was tried out in Hungary during the early 1950s, Comrade Stalin himself was supposed to be called by us all “our dear father” (edesapank). And sure enough that befits the head of an aspiring totalitarian regime since it’s political program is to subsume the full management of the life of the citizenry.
Under that kind of system there is no private realm. Everything is of public concern. One is supposed to be part of a collective, kind of like termites are parts of the colonies to which they belong. Individual differences are simply denied. Everyone is a specie-being, an entity of the group, a cell in the organism of society or even humanity. So with such an overall social philosophy it makes sense that those who deem themselves the leaders would presume to know it all about how to live life, everyone’s life that is.
I was actually surprised that nearly all the instructions about how one ought to carry on as a father happened to fit my case. I did in fact go out to throw pitches to my son; taught him and my daughters to bike; read them books, sang them songs, took them on long walks and drives and trips around the globe and on and on. (I even co-authored a little book with my younger daughter, a kind of reminder that “cute is not enough” in her life, which became the title of the small volume!)
OK, so Obama listed some of the activities I managed, lo and behold, to figure out as my own parental tasks. But other parents, more musical or athletic or culinary or nature loving than I probably choose different undertakings in which to involved their children–indeed, thousands and thousands of different ones, reflecting as it should their and their children’s individuality and opportunities and interests. But no, Mr. Obama had this list which he decided he should promote for all fathers to follow, as if he had been hired by them all to given them blow by blow guidelines and as if they couldn’t take up parenting without his regal guidance.
Maybe there are some parents so unprepared for what they have chosen to embark upon when they decided to have children that a little help from their friends is welcome–a bit of personal, private nudging or encouragement from people who know them well enough so it wouldn’t be an affront to butt in with such advice. But that is just it–to do any successful, valuable butting in one needs to know those parents intimately, as a psychotherapist would who has been called upon to lend a hand to those who are a bit clueless. Without such involvement in the life of parents, issuing the advice can only be insulting and quite likely misleading. Children are not produced by cookie cutters, all the same with need for identical parenting to help them grow up.
Of course, this is one of the main problems with Mr. Obama’s social philosophy, namely, that it fails to pay attention to our individuality, or specialness. Doesn’t he realized that just as our fingerprints or DNA fit us personally, with close attention to who we are (not merely some vague notion that we are all people), so must our upbringing. No one from the White House is equipped to give advice except in the most general way, like “Pay attention to what your children need from you!”