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Saturday, June 18, 2011

Dapper Dads

Ward Cleaver - A dapper father, indeed.
It's Father's Day weekend and, as a father myself, I thought it right to commemorate the day by recognizing one of the dapperest dads in our shared cultural history...  Ward Cleaver.

Now, I understand that Ward was a fictional character, and I also realize that Ward and his ilk of mid-fifties fathers are not held in particularly high regard today, but I see a lot to emulate in Mr. Cleaver.  First, this was a man who new his place, and a major part of knowing his place was knowing when to listen to June.  If you really watch "Leave it to Beaver", you see that Ward never disregarded June's advice, which generally made Ward a more understanding and sympathetic father.  This rings true in my own life.  While I might be quicker to anger, Melissa knows how to point out what I've missed about the situation and usually makes my own response much more reasonable and thoughtful (she does not, however, wear pearls when she vacuums...  perhaps that's because I'm the one who vacuums...). 

Ward was also always there for his sons when they needed him, but he also knew when to let them alone.  One of the hardest things about being a parent today is the expectation that you are not only your child's parent and guardian, but also their best friend.  Don't misunderstand me, I love my children.  I like my children.  I have a great time with my kids.  But, it's crucial to know when to be available and when to give your children the space they need.  Just like Ward, you've got to know when to trust Wally and the Beav, even if they sometimes let you down.  It's important to give your kids the chance to succeed, and also the chance to fail.

Ward wasn't a hard-nosed disciplinarian, and I like that.  I'm the type of dad who's pretty easily riled by the small things - I react and move on very quickly.  It's not always effective, and I think it can be rather annoying to have your father irked one minute and perfectly fine the next, but I just don't hold a grudge.  Ward didn't either.  And, like Ward, I'm at my best in a bad situation.  A small injury to one of our little brood gets to me, while a trip to the Emergency Room is handled with calm and aplomb.  In fact, some of the best bonding experiences  I've had with relatives like my children, mother, brother, sister and wife have been in just these kinds of places.

June Cleaver:  Dear, do you think all parents have this much trouble?
Ward Cleaver:  No, just parents with children.
Finally, Ward seemed happiest in his very stylish leisure wear, eating dinner at a proper table with Wally, the Beaver and June.  Everyone was where they were supposed to be - together - talking about the events of the day and solving the family problems.  Let me tell you something important...  Despite all that you may hear, there are a lot of people with lives very much like the Cleavers, even today.  We may look different.  We may not be as well off.  We may be single mothers or fathers.  We may have family dynamics that are far from "traditional".  But, at the end of the day, we gather together around a table to share a meal.  We put our kids to bed at night, sometimes with a story, a kiss, or a prayer.  We have average worries - about money, the car, our jobs, the roof.  And we love our children.

If you had told me twenty years ago that I would one day have eight children, I would have thought you seriously deranged.  But, here I am, the father of one fabulous seventeen year old daughter and seven wonderful sons.  I wouldn't trade it for the world, and I'll bet Ward felt the same about Wally and the Beav.

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