Lessons from My Father

To the dads and soon to be dads: Let’s admit it—Father’s Day is one of those “holidays” that even dads are laid back about. In fact, as a young man, I never thought much about actually being a father; well at least to the extent that I was planning to become a priest.  So, as my step-dad moved from moment to moment in my life, it did not occur to me that he was planting little seeds of information, inspiration and wisdom that I would one day come to rely on in raising my two sons.

What I have discovered for many dads is those moments we have with our children seem to come and go faster and faster leaving little time or room to fully appreciate that our “little one” is becoming a “young adult”—that is, until you tell her she’s not going out dressed like that; or you demand that your son shave that “mess” off his face.

It’s true at times it may have seemed as if your dad was trying to plan things for you; he really wasn’t. O.k. he was (it’s in our nature), but it’s only because as Shakespeare once observed, “it is a wise father that knows his own child.”

Very often it’s hard to appreciate that our journey from infancy to adulthood was as scary for our parents as it was for us. And for many dads, whose role in the home has become the butt of sitcom humor or stereotyped to the point of irrelevancy,that journey remains one of great joy, anticipation, and trepidation because despite the knocks he takes (and sometimes inflicts on himself) he still wants to protect you; and, ultimately to help you become you. It is, for a dad a part of the process of letting go.

But what every father knows more than anything else is that being a “dad’ is not about the biological link to a child or about asserting authority over that child or even being a friend, but rather about raising your child to respect and to love him or herself and others. It is about the kind of person that child will be some day.

However, dads can still be a little unorthodox at times.

For example, your dad will spend the first two years of your life teaching you to walk and talk and the next sixteen years telling you to sit down and shut up.

Or in the way your dad makes a point. I’m reminded of the dad who tells of the time his progeny came home from school with a report card on which the highest grade was a c-. So, he signed his son’s report card with an “x.” And when his son asked him why he did that he explained because with grades like those he didn’t want his teachers to think he was being raised by people who could actually read and write.

And of course, every dad knows the quickest way to get your child’s attention is to say “no!” (I still haven’t figured out why that doesn’t work on my wife)

I guess sometimes a little unorthodoxy is a good thing particularly as the world around us pushes conflicting and dangerous signals on matters of morals and responsibilities. With my own sons I find myself recalling how my dad helped me define what it means to be a strong, faithful and conscientious person in the face of such challenges.

So, to the fathers who care more than they sometimes show, who are at times absent, even when they are there we appreciate your fears and your joys for us because we know how hard it is for you to let go.

I know one day my boys will leave for places far from home—too soon for their mother and not soon enough for me. But I also know they will have been well prepared to confront the world that awaits them because a father’s love, lessons, faith, and traditions have been passed on to them as they were passed on to me.

And so it will be for you when your child comes to you for the answer to some of life’s most complex problems, you will, at that moment think back to your childhood and those pearls of wisdom passed on to you by your father and know instinctively the only possible answer you can give is the one your father gave you: “I don’t know, go ask your mother.”

Happy Father’s Day!!

The Lessons of an Election

By now you’ve had your fill of the Spanking in Wisconsin (not quite the “The Thrilla in Manila”—but close), as Republicans crowed about what the re-election of Governor Scott Walker really meant and labor leaders, DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Shultz and more Obama campaign surrogates than one could count did their level best to spin themselves into believing what the defeat of Mayor Tom Barrett didn’t mean.

To be sure, the election had something for everyone: vindication for Republicans as labor suffered a thoroughly humiliating rebuke for their overreaching; affirmation for Gov. Walker as his margin of victory (53%-46%) surprised even the best of pundits; a breath of optimism for Democrat’s as the they took control of the State Senate; and, expectation of things to come (or at least hoped for) for Barack Obamaas he beat Mitt Romneyin exit polling (51%-44%).

But despite the highs and lows of Tuesday’s results, there were also a few lessons to be learned.

Let’s start with Lesson One: never underestimate what the people think about you or your issue.While 52% of Wisconsin voters said they support unions, over a third of union households supported the Other Guy. On the question of collective bargaining, 50% of the voters indicated they supported the changes to state law that limits collective bargaining for government workers (wasn’t that what this fight was about in first place?!). For many voters the recall effort was just a bad idea as 60% said they should only be used for official misconduct.

Lesson Two: It may not be the money after all. Yes, Gov. Walker raised only $30 million while Mayor Barrett raised $7 million with outside sources (affectionately known as Super PACS) contributed the remainder of the $63 million. They lament about Super PACs and the influence of money in politics generally, and Wisconsin in particular, belie the fact that close to 90% of the voters on election said they had made up their minds long before the ad wars had begun. In short, all of those big bucks from faceless donors did very little to move the vote one way or the other on Election Day. So much for that.

Lesson Three: Don’t let the bright lights of victory blind you. There is no doubt Gov. Walker’s victory lifted the GOP like no other race since New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (‘09) and Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown (‘10) won their respective races. The energy and excitement on election night was contagious—almost intoxicating. But, Wisconsin was just skirmish in the larger war for the direction of our nation’s economy. Bold predictions of a GOP sweep of the State Senate seats—coming off of the decisive win of the Governor early on election night—were short-lived as the GOP saw its hold on the Wisconsin Senate slip through its fingers. Moreover, even bolder predictions about what Gov. Walker’s victory means for the presidential election this fall must not distract Republicans in Wisconsin or elsewhere around the country from the real and difficult opportunity to defeat President Obama (recent polls have Obama and Romney tied 43% – 43%). There is something to be said for not getting too cocky—even in politics. Mr. Romney must still define himself, what his leadership will mean to the Country and how his vision of the future embraces the freedoms and opportunities that have come to define the American Dream.

Lesson Four: Don’t let the glare of defeat blind you, either. Speaking of cocky, the Obama team has to be reeling as they watched their labor buddies get clocked by the Walker-GOP right cross. From dollars raised and spent to the even more important, organization and boots on the ground, the vaunted labor election machine appeared to slam into GOP wall. Certainly, voter turnout for both the Walker and Barrett campaigns was at presidential levels, but on election night it became clear some of the voters who were turned out for Barrett had something else in mind (See Lesson One).

The President needn’t hang his head too low, however, as the voters did offer a bit of a silver lining. In the exit polling head-to-head matchup against Mitt Romney, the president posted a 7 point lead in Wisconsin. But even in a state the president won in 2008, the weight of a still anemic economy, poor job growth and the foreboding sense that the future doesn’t look any better than today, will shrink that lead to nothing before the Brats gets cold.

What this means for Romney and Obama is neither one of them can count out nor count on a volatile electorate to win. It appears both campaigns will actually have to work for our votes this November.

Which brings me to the final lesson: Making a candidate actually work for our vote is a very good thing indeed.