Sunday, June 16, 2013
A Good Day to Think About Fathers
Vic L. (standing at right) with his family (photo by Peter L., 1972)
Today’s a day to celebrate fathers, and I’m always happy to do that. Our family is full of good fathers. My brothers Steve and Peter and brother-in-law George were loving fathers who took huge delight and pride in their kids and actively contributed to their development and well-being. In turn, their sons and sons-in-laws are great fathers too: Jason, Wynn, Jacob, Tim. I’m thrilled to see our son J in his loving and playful role as father to our grandkids, and I feel proud and happy about having been (and continuing to be) J’s dad as well.
I often think of my own father, Vic L., as larger than life. That probably has to do in part with having been a kid in awe of the grownups who were so significant to one’s life. However our dad was a unique and exceptional person. Looking back, he had enormous influences on my three siblings and myself. I look at our various life directions as powerfully shaped by our father’s values and priorities. In some ways each of us came to pattern ourselves after different values and aspirations important to our father. I think of Vic as epitomizing four major domains of values: (a) law; (b) business/finance; (c) education; and (d) art. As a lawyer, he was deeply devoted to the law. He was also professionally engaged in the business community and became very involved in the stock market and matters of finance in later years. He had great respect for education, stressed the importance of intellectual pursuits, and was active in facilitating teachers’ work in the local public schools. And he had substantial lifelong interests in the arts (painting, literature, music, photography, theater). Each of his children, as we developed, made life choices which reflected different parts of my father’s values. We’ve all been Vic’s offspring, but each of us responded to different themes.
Vic and Dave (circa 1939)
For myself, my father always placed great emphasis on the importance of education and of my performance in school. My parents scrimped and saved to pay my way through Antioch College. Successful and rewarded in my various student roles, I wound up selecting a career in academia, devoting forty-three years to work as a university professor. When my dad came to town and visited my social psychology lecture class, he was amazed to see his quiet son pontificate about this and that for fifty minutes in a row.
Vic and Steve (circa 1943)
If I reflected the academic/intellectual side of my father’s values, my brother Steve pursued the legal side. After a freshman year of fraternity escapades at the University of Michigan, Steve transferred to Northern Michigan where he became a serious student, then did Law School at Wayne State where he edited the law review. Steve spent his career at a major law firm in Seattle, much to the delight and respect of our dad, and they shared many professional interests.
Peter’s birthday party (1950)
Peter had the most memorable undergraduate career in our family, attending five or six colleges before he graduated with a fine arts degree from Michigan State, reflecting another of our dad’s major values. When art didn’t offer the career opportunities that Peter desired, he underwent further training for certification as a financial analyst. Peter had an outstanding career in finance, winding up as a Senior Vice-President for Smith-Barney in New Jersey. Our father was enormously pleased and proud (and cultivated Peter as a financial consultant).
Vicki with Doris (circa 1955)
My sister was the youngest, and both my parents were thrilled to finally have a girl in the family. While my dad had lots of influence on Vicki’s academic accomplishments, artistic activities, and a certain bohemian temperament, I think she identified most strongly with our mother and adopted a role more complementary to our father’s. Thus, Vicki wound up, not only as a devoted mother herself, but as a marriage and family therapist with professional interests centered on enhancing families.
All of us kids are obviously separate from and different from our father. However, if you put us all together collectively, it’s like we form a combined portrait of our dad. That’s sort of weird. While my take on it may be a stretch, it is a reminder of the enormous influence that fathers have on our lives. I wish my dad were around today so I could talk about it with him.