Unconditional

Although at best, it could only be considered a minor theme, woven throughout the Academy Award-winning “The King’s Speech” is a story of a father and a son. In this case, the father is an ailing king, and his son, a duke in line for the crown.

More than any other theme or detail in this beautifully told story, the gravity of this relationship is what has stuck with me. Even in a palace, with abundant resources, a son is still scarred by his father’s words, actions, and inactions.

I spend much of my professional life examining the impact of absent fathers on largely poor, urban youth who have added obstacles to overcome along with fathers who show up only when its convenient. The King’s Speech was a powerful reminder that even with the resources of a whole nation at your disposal, perceptions of how your father loves or disapproves of you can shape your future more than all the best intentions.

My grandfather passed away this month, and in the space and silence left behind, I’ve though about the legacy of fathers, even beyond their own children.

In a generation of stoic, emotionally distant fathers, my grandfather was involved, invested. He loved practical jokes, playing outside, and readily involved his children in his world, even when it meant the task at hand would take much longer to accomplish. He delighted in giving his daughter’s gifts, particularly around Christmas, and took pride in their accomplishments and triumphs. Neighborhood children would come to his door and ask if he could come out and play – even those outside of his family knew that this man was life-giving and longed to be in his presence. And thus, the standard was set for the next generation.

My dad and my uncle are both loving, involved, attentive fathers who take obvious delight in their children. They are extending a legacy and demonstrating to their own daughters that their love is not conditioned upon achievement, or ability, or even some ill-defined, unreachable standard. It is rooted in an unchanging identity as daughter, and that is enough.

In a world where 41 percent of children are born to unmarried parents, and where more than a quarter of all children live with just one parent, it is no insignificant matter to have grown up with a father in my home, let alone one who is married to my mother. But to have a man who goes further and chooses to love, to delight…that is a rare gift that deserves to be celebrated, even into the next generation.

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