Father's Day 2013: In Praise of Gentle Men, Fathers Or Not

I've written about Mothers' Day but not about Fathers' Day. It's no big deal — and not especially difficult to sire a child. Many men think of doing so as either their right or as a by-product of pleasure. Our recent and ongoing national discussion(s) about equal pay for women, feminism, women's access to health care, and our right to choose to continue or terminate pregnancy, are all indicative of a primarily patriarchal societal outlook. It's not necessary to honor men for the simple act of ejaculation.

On the other hand, those men who raise children — their own or those of other men — with the generosity of spirit and the loving kindness of their hearts deserve all the praise we can offer them. Single or married, gay couples or straight, favorite uncles, a special teacher or coach who recognizes a boy's or girl's intellect or athletic prowess and nurtures it over time ... these are the men whose efforts contribute to fine human beings. It's time to recognize and thank them. They are the gentle men.

Gentle men take time to read to small children. My father was especially proud that I could recite the alphabet at 4-years-old, and read Robert Louis Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verse — his own copy from childhood — to me until I could recite many of those poems. I still recall most of the words to "Bed in Winter," over 50 years later. I could read before I started first grade ... and never stopped.

Gentle men raise and adore other men's children. My niece worships her stepfather, my sister's second husband, who raised her, taught her basic carpentry while he built their home, taught her to drive and, a signal mark of amity in a blended family, received the following accolade from her biological father at her high school graduation: "You done good."

Gentle men contribute rich memories and special experience. They teach children not their own basic goodness and wonderful things. Favorite uncles are especially good at that. My husband had a favorite uncle, who though childless, took an interest in his education and development and coached him to be the only one of his generation with a college degree. Later, with the next generation and our own childlessness, my husband has paid that love forward to our own nieces and nephews. We have taken them on trips with us, taught them horseback riding, gone on scary rollercoasters with them, overcome fears of dogs, talked over problems that couldn't be discussed with mom or dad. All our "kids" have turned out beautifully: a librarian, a sports marketing executive, a current college student, an apprentice plumber, and a cadet Marine.

One thing more: gentle men are kind to the four footed children, too. All of the stepfathers, uncles, brothers-in-laws and fathers in our extended family are good to the dogs, cats, horses and other assorted critters who find their way into the charmed family circle. My husband's brother and his wife — now that their nest is more-or-less empty — provide foster care for rescue dogs.

The picture at the top is my all time favorite picture of my father, taken with one of our Boxers, Jeff, in 2006. I call it "Two Old Gentlemen at Happy Hour."