Monday, June 16, 2008

Absent Fathers Still Influence

While perusing the internet researching a completely different topic, I stumbled across a fascinating article detailing how many of our nation's Presidents were deeply influenced by their absent fathers. Doug Wead writes,
There is curious anecdotal evidence that some of history’s most powerful leaders came from homes with absent fathers. And we are seeing this scenario acted out again in the lives of our two presidential candidates, Barack Obama and John McCain.

Senator Barack Obama, whose father left home in 1963, was only two years old. They were separated by continents. Obama was twenty-one years old when he was told in a telephone call that the father he never knew was killed in an automobile accident.

John McCain, son and grandson of navy officers, had a father who was a four star admiral. He was very loving but very busy and usually faraway.

Many fathers of the American presidents die young. And even the ones who live usually fall into the Obama-McCain category. “I was never there,” says George Herbert Walker Bush, “Barbara raised him.”

Three fathers of presidents died before their sons were even born.

Andrew Jackson
Rutherford B. Hayes
Bill Clinton

And many others died at an early age. James Garfield was one year old when his father died. Andrew Johnson was three, Herbert Hoover six, George Washington eleven, and Thomas Jefferson fourteen. Fully nineteen presidents lost their fathers before they reached age thirty. And only two fathers actually attended their sons’ inaugurations.

There is a very predictable family formula for strong leaders, good and bad. They have an attachment to the mother and an absent father. Hitler, Stalin, Mao Zedung all fit the pattern as neatly as Washington and Jefferson.

After giving more examples from the annals of U.S. history to support his thesis, Wead recounts how he was puzzled by the fact that absentee fathers played such a prominent and positive role in shaping the lives of Presidents, even though he knew "...America's prisons are full of young men who also attached to their mothers and have an absent father." Later, he came to some thought-provoking conclusions as to why the impact on each group of children is so very different,
If a father only spends his life serving his sons, reducing himself to the role of a taxi driver, running them to little league and soccer practice and math camp, all to show that they are a loving father willing to sacrifice their own advancement to give their sons an opportunity they never had, don’t expect the sons to grow up to be major league ball players or brilliant engineers. They will likely grow up to be taxi drivers just like their fathers, driving their sons all over suburbia as well.

On the other hand, if a father does something great with his life, achieves something significant or heroic, then, even if he is absent, his son will likely follow and may even do better, just to rub it in.

There is now much evidence that the role of the father, even his absence, is just as important in shaping leaders and presidents as is the role of the mother. Affirmed and empowered by their mother’s love but also hurt and frustrated by their father’s absence, a leader, including most American presidents, will strive to prove their value and worth with their great achievements.

Personally, I am convinced the best fathers do both. They deeply invest their time in their children's lives while also finding and fulfilling their own God-given destiny. I do think, however, that in an attempt to give their kids every possible advantage in life, some parents unwittingly infect them with the intoxicating and corrosive impression that they are the center of the universe, that their own wants and needs should be the focus of their lives.

Jesus, on the other hand, clearly stated that humility and service to others are the key to all true greatness. It is very important to convince our children of our love for them and of their great value in the eyes of the Lord. It is also vital that we point them toward something larger than themselves as the ultimate goal in life.
24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? (Matthew 16:24-26 NIV)

1 comment:

  1. That's interesting. I very much agree with your point that a good father does both.

    I recently bought the John Adams series on DVD and found it quite interesting. In the case of Adams, he was absent quite a lot. And at another point, he AND his wife were away from their children for many years.

    Adams had three sons and a daughter. The eldest son fell very much in line with this fellow's theory and became a president himself (John Quincy Adams). However, another son, Charles Adams, was bitter and resentful towards his father because of his long periods of absence. He becomes a drunken wreck and Adams eventually disowns this son.

    So I do wonder if he looked at all members of the family when researching his article or just the ones who became president? No doubt Charles Adams did not do himself any favors in the way he handled his father's absence. On the other hand, I think the elder Adams did do his family a good deal of harm by being absent so much.

    I think John Adams could have fulfilled his destiny and been more available to his family. He still would have had to be gone some of the time, but to be gone for stretches of up to 10 years is quite a long time indeed!
    God Bless,