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You are here: Home Opinion Paula I. Bryant PAULA I. BRYANT: For all the fathers who don’t walk away

PAULA I. BRYANT: For all the fathers who don’t walk away

With Father’s Day just around the corner, faithful reader Carol Foster of South Boston asked us to reprint a column penned by William S. Yoder and published in The Charlotte Observer back in 1996.

 

We are reprinting the article entitled “For All The Fathers Who Don’t Walk Away” in our column space this week in recognition of all those fathers who know what it means to be around for their children when it counts. 

 

For all the fathers who don’t walk away

By William S. Yoder

My father walked out in June 1964. To say that the event left a hole in my life is akin to saying that a terrorist’s bomb left a hole in the side of the plane - at 40,000 feet - and the pilot bailed out.

My world went topsy-turvy. I had a hard time breathing as the panic engulfed me that afternoon, and my little plane spiraled wildly out of control, the ground seemingly rushing up to meet me. 

Somehow I grabbed hold. Somehow I pushed the right buttons. Somehow I kept the thing together. Somehow I kept flying, albeit an erratic, sometimes sickening flight. 

Over the years I got better at it, but the craft was damaged. I later got some help patching the hole. But even the most skilled mechanics can’t make a damaged plane fly like new again. Not completely.

So how does dad’s departure affect me today, 30-plus years after the fact? In moments of acute stress - a job crisis, financial pressures, problems in home life - I feel that patch creak and pop. The cold air seems to rush in again, and I have the awful feeling that I’m about to go down again. It’s an awful feeling.

But how about good weather flying - when there’s not much turbulence and the sun is shining? Well, I’m a reasonably adept pilot. In fact, some would say I’ve become rather skillful at it.

The problem is, I don’t know where I’m going. Dad didn’t leave me any reference points, and there’s no map in the glove compartment.

Woops, here comes middle age. How does one adjust from being a young man to being middle-aged?

Uh-oh, there’s college tuition for the kids up ahead. How does one handle that?

Look out, the children are going to be leaving home and going out on their own soon. How does one structure their life during those years?

At age 44 I’m still looking for some way to fill the void left when my dad walked out in 1964.

Statistics say that there are 11 million children of divorced parents out there, so this is not a unique story. For crying out loud, it’s not even rare. There are wounded flyers all over life’s skies. And then there are stories of abusive parents who are still on board, still in control and, well — there are a lot more miserable fates than growing up without a dad.

Still, there are lessons to be learned, points to be made about dads and their importance in family life. 

Young dads-to-be, those of you thinking about becoming a father: Think a long time about the lives of your young children, lives for which your upbringing is going to make an impact forever. Are you ready for that kind of responsibility?

Married dads who have seen the fizzle go out of your marriage: As you contemplate divorce tallying up the financial impact, calculating how to divide property, laying plans for establishing a second household, starting over - think for a long time how your children are going to come out of this deal. Trust me: They don’t know how they got on this flight, they don’t know where it is going, and they sure are not prepared to fly the plane on their own. Be sure you make plans for their safety and wellbeing before you bail out.

This last lesson, here at Father’s Day, is for dads who are hanging in there, day after day. Dads who may be contemplating what feels like mounting inadequacies as age overtakes them, as their children size them up and judge them to be lacking, and for whom the next 20 or 30 years at work may look like a succession of musical chair games.

This one’s for you. You are a rock. A pillar. A solid, granite monument, the importance of which may not be realized for a long time, maybe not until even after you’re gone. But just by being there, day after day, you are leaving your mark - a reference point, on which your children - particularly your sons - will get their bearings forever. 

(Some of you may be providing a negative reference point, an example your children choose not to be like, but you’re providing a reference point just the same.)

 

Happy Father’s Day. And thanks. Thanks for all you are doing for any child who is lucky enough to have you as a dad.