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Father knows best

By Lady Liberty
web posted June 26, 2006

Every June, we celebrate Father's Day. Well, every June since 1972, that is (although the origin of Father's Day dates back to 1909, it wasn't an official holiday until Richard Nixon declared it so). Despite its official status in the pantheon of holidays, I've long considered it a "Hallmark Holiday." By that, I mean that — sort of like Sweetest Day* and Grandparents' Day — it's a pseudo-holiday intended mostly to make all of us buy cards and make phone calls, or feel really, really guilty if we don't. (For the record, I buy the card and make the phone call because I'd feel really, really guilty if I didn't.)

Please don't misunderstand anything I've said so far to mean that I don't appreciate my dad in particular, or fathers in general. That's not at all the case. I just think it's kind of sad to set aside one day where we're effectively shamed into making phone calls, sending cards, or buying bad ties when the reality is that we should appreciate fathers all the time. After all, if they're doing a good job, they're important people who have an incalculable effect on their chidlren!

Good fathers teach their children to be responsible for their behavior. That means that there are consequences for bad behavior. In my own case, that could mean anything from a spanking to a lecture to a look. Those of you with good dads know exactly the look I mean! And if you know, well, then, you're also well aware that "the look" was the single most effective weapon in our fathers' arsenal. Those "Scared Straight" prison programs so popular a few years ago had nothing on Dad's original scared straight program!

Good fathers are good examples. They're honest. They're kind. They work hard. They show their children how to be responsible, productive adults by being responsible, productive adults. Because they have high expectations from their children, they work to uphold those same expectations from themselves. They know that their children are watching them and that what they do all too often speaks far louder than any words they might choose to say, and has far more of a long term effect than any temporary disciplinary measure might have.

Good fathers prove they love their children by refusing to give them every single thing they ask for. Good fathers don't feel the need to buy their children's love. In fact, the best fathers are willing to risk it by getting tough when it's necessary for them to do so. I remember more than a few occasions when I hated my father. And by "hated," I mean with a burning, weeping passion. Of course, that hatred later turned to resentment when he was (again) proved right; the resentment became respect when it really sunk in that he was (again) proved right.

Good fathers plan for the future by taking effective actions today. They do all that they can teach their children so that when the children are ready to leave the family home, they're really ready to live on their own. Those fathers who allow children to grow up and remain dependent on them aren't the loving fathers they think they are, but are rather the overprotective parent that hobbles his children and makes their stumbles inevitable because they've never learned to walk by themselves. Good fathers know the old adage, "If you love something, set it free..." is more than just an old adage. It's the road to adulthood.

We all know that not all fathers are good fathers. Some are absent emotionally. Some are just absent. Some set poor examples by being freeloaders, liars, bullies, or worse. Unfortunately, these men also have an incalculable effect on their children. Fortunately, good fathers and those who strive to be good fathers still outnumber the poor ones. (Maybe we should consider setting up a Bad Father's Day. If anybody deserves to feel really, really guilty, it's bad fathers — well, and bad mothers, too, but I should have written that story in May.)

The word "father" has a similar connotation even when it's not used in connection with children. Some men (and women, of course) leave legacies behind them that are — at least in part — the direct result of one "brainchild" or another (and there are a lot of them — a list published via Wikipedia of those known as "the father or mother of something" is extensive). But how well they considered the impact of their ideas and how well they planned for any eventual implementation can be almost directly compared to the hallmarks of a good father of an actual child.

Consider, for example, the Founding Fathers of this country. They planned carefully as they saw their child "born" because they knew that the years ahead would bring new things and experiences that could cause big changes. While leaving room for those big changes, they worked hard to craft a Constitution that would be flexible and at the same time be immutable where basic freedoms are concerned.

These fathers, of course, were exceedingly responsible men. Most were businessmen. Most were educated. And even those who were neither were sufficiently loyal to the cause of freedom that they could be relied upon to do their duty to the fledgling country. Now, while you and I might fail in our responsibility by bouncing a check or by calling in sick when we're not, the men who instigated and fought the American Revolution could have died or been executed for any irresponsibility — and worse, in failing the cause, they would likely have taken some of their associates with them.

The truth is that, while the founding fathers may have been particularly courageous, where responsibility goes they weren't so very unusual. Most men (and women) of that time were responsible people. They had to be! Whatever their own fathers may have taught them, they would have been quick to be outcast or become destitute if they didn't live up to the responsibilities of earning a living and of getting along with others in society. Perhaps that's why no one suggested that "responsibility" be enshrined in the Constitution.

It could be said, however, that "responsibility" is as strongly implied in our founding documents as is "privacy." When it suggests that men vote on their political representatives, it clearly assumes that men will accept that responsibility. When it discusses who has the charge of standing armies, it suggests that men will step up to take responsibility in defense of the country. When it says that all able-bodied men are part and parcel of the United States militia, it goes so far as to imply that all able-bodied men are responsible men. When it notes that all men have the right to have their case heard by their peers, it clearly denotes that most men are responsible enough to take the judging of their fellows so seriously that justice will be served if they do.

It is, perhaps, more fair to point to the Founding Fathers as setting good examples. George Washington was revered after the Revolution, and was, in fact, offered the chance to become a king. Washington was wise enough — and cared enough for his newly minted "child" and the kings it might have to endure at some time in the future — that he declined. Thomas Jefferson was extraordinarily well educated, and he did most of the work of learning for himself; though he preferred peace and quiet, he served the country wholeheartedly and with no small success. Benjamin Franklin was a diplomat who knew a little something about a lot of things, but who knew best how to get along with others. Patrick Henry showed us uncompromising devotion; Samuel Adams exemplified passion. James Madison and Alexander Hamilton offered their intelligence and philosophies freely in support of the cause.

Each Founder, of course, had his faults as well. George Washington endured deep depressions when he was forced into inactivity, or when he had to "gladhand" people for effect rather than acting quietly and decisively to get the job done. Thomas Jefferson loathed public speaking and wanted simply to retire to Monticello; while not a "fault" I'd condemn, there are doubtless many who would also consider Jefferson's overt questioning of Christianity a real flaw.

Benjamin Franklin was an agnostic at best (again, not something I'd consider a fault, but something that some would) and a libertine (though neither his contemporaries nor history seem to condemn him for it). Patrick Henry was sometimes a little too upright for his own good — and for the good of those with whom he had to work. Sam Adams was a terrific rabble-rouser, but failed — repeatedly — as a businessman. John Adams didn't take to compromise well and couldn't get along with Thomas Jefferson even when he needed to (the reverse was also true). And Alexander Hamilton's brilliance is largely to credit — and to blame — for the Federal Reserve System.

And yet, no man is perfect. Neither is any father no matter how good, but we love them and honor them anyway. Their sacrifices for their children are all too rarely acknowledged, but in submitting their own desires to the betterment of their children, they raise the standards of their own legacy. The Founding Fathers, for all of their genius, courage, warts, and shortcomings, certainly offered their posterity that much, and each and every American owes them a debt for that.

It's taken more than 200 years, but the example our forefathers set for us has been all but forgotten. Their philosophies, once revered, are now actually relegated by some to the dustbin of "dead white guys." Their writings, written in plain and simple English, have been "interpreted" by those who would usurp power and mitigate freedom. Education has been devalued to the point where schools are turning out students who are functionally illiterate. Courtesy is all but forgotten; respect for the freedom of others has been replaced by demands for the "freedom" to never be offended.

Sadly, even a good father can raise up a child that can tear his legacy to shreds, or worse, can obliterate it with a much darker one of his own. Consider Jeffrey Dahmer's father, for example, or John Walker Lindh's (although in the case of the latter, it could be argued that the father was a little too anxious to please his son in that the teen was permitted to go to the Middle East to study the Koran in Arabic, something he likely couldn't have done without both daddy's money and consent). Think about Scott Peterson's dad.

Americans in general, like the worst serial killer or most twisted jihadist, are in the process of destroying the legacy our fathers bled and died to leave for us. No, unlike "real" killers, the vast majority of us haven't hurt anybody, but is killing freedom really any better, especially when the death of liberty will sooner or later end up in bloodshed? Look at Tiananmen Square, and try to pretend that it won't! Better still, take a good, hard look at what happened in our own country in Waco, Texas and consider the fatal mistakes made by government agencies that are supposed to protect us and uphold freedom. Look at the broad domestic surveillance by the NSA since 9/11, the infiltration by the FBI of groups protesting the war in Iraq, the written "exceptions" made to many of the rules by President George W. Bush, and be afraid...

We must acknowledge that every time we let our politicians get away with voting for freedom-stealers like the USA PATRIOT Act or REAL ID, we're supporting the loss of freedom. Whenever we don't protest — loudly — when we see people convicted and jailed for draconian terms for committing victimless crimes that are really wrong solely because they offend somebody else's sense of propriety, we're helping to kill liberty. Any time we make exceptions to the Bill of Rights for the sake of expedience or because we're afraid a guilty man might go free, we're contributing to the future conviction of innocents or those who were coerced or entrapped into their acts — or, even worse, to the already too rapid change in our justice system that's more and more often considering those arrested to be guilty 'til proven innocent instead of the other way around.

There's one more trait that all of the best fathers have, and that's that they love their children. In addition to everything else they may or may not do, they give their children their love. Our Founding Fathers loved freedom, and they bequeathed it to us accordingly. It's ours to care for, and you don't have to visit a prison or see the Congressional record to know that we're failing. James Madison, known as the "Father of the Constitution," left a letter behind to be opened on the occasion of his death. In that letter, he wrote, "The advice nearest to my heart and deepest in my convictions is that the Union of the States be cherished and perpetuated."

The Founding Fathers were the fathers of our country; we are the fathers (and mothers) of our country's future. Will we follow Madison's fondest wish and cherish and perpetuate our shared "child?" Or will we continue on the path to destroy that which so many have long held so dear?

If you want to send cards on "Hallmark Holidays," by all means go ahead and send one. But if you really want to honor your father and tell him how much you appreciate what he's done for you, live your life to make him proud. Be responsible. Be good. Be strong. And if you really love liberty, then make up your mind to live in a way our Founding Fathers would appreciate. Be responsible for their legacy and ours by preserving it. Be good by knowing that freedom is always the right answer to whatever the question may be and acting accordingly. Most important of all, be strong enough to be good and responsible so that liberty can be our legacy, too.

Thanks, Dad, for teaching me to be responsible, good (most of the time anyway), and strong (though it's not always easy). We all owe the Founding Fathers, but I also owe you.

*Sweetest Day is actually about selling candy, but you get my point.

Lady Liberty, a senior writer for ESR, is a graphic designer and pro-freedom activist currently residing in the Midwest. More of her writings and other political and educational information is available on her web site, Lady Liberty's Constitution Clearing House, at http://www.ladylibrty.com. E-mail Lady Liberty at ladylibrty@ladylibrty.com.

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