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My Turn: Children find role models where they can

Posted: June 17, 2014 - 6:22am

Editor’s note: The following My Turn first published Sunday, June 15, under the wrong name.

For Father’s Day, I’m cooking bouillabaisse for my family. That’s my Father’s Day gift: being a father.

My own dad, who died several years ago, had no idea how to be a father. He was in the Navy until my sister and I were 10 and he spent much of that time away at sea. When he retired and was suddenly a constant presence in the house, we weren’t too sure about him — and he wasn’t too sure about us. He seemed to realize pretty quick that I was not the son he’d imagined I was. I wasn’t an athlete like my cousins, and I didn’t get good grades like my sister. I spent more time drawing and playing music and writing stories. He had not been home to shape me, and he frequently let me know that I wasn’t the kind of son he wanted. For my part, I tried looking up to him as a role model but that was a pretense.

The men who had really shaped my character during my “formative years” were the men in my mother’s family; my grandfather, who would get down on the floor with me and teach me how to draw all the characters in the Sunday comics, and my two uncles. My uncle Dick was the playful goofball/would-be con-man who gave me an example of how to be playful, taught me how to cheat at Monopoly and gave me an enduring love for spy novels. There also was my uncle Jack, the beatnik artist/hipster.

We lived across the river from New York City where Jack was, during the day, an art student at Cooper Union and, at night, a beatnik hanging around the clubs in Greenwich Village. He and his friends always had something new and wild going on — rocks that glowed under ultra-violet light, bongo drums and standup basses, hot sports cars like the Jaguar XKE that sat out in front of the house for months without ever being driven. And then there were his paintings and sculptures: I fell in love with the art for its own sake, but under my Uncle Dick’s influence, I charged my friends 25 cents admission to Jack’s studio to view the wonderful nudes. Jack gave me a deep love of art and all things Bohemian.

These were my male role models, not my dad. I loved my dad, and I will always be proud of him for the man he was: kind, ethical and generous to a fault. Despite being a career sailor, he never spoke like one. He hated four-letter words, and the only time I ever heard him use the F-word was, of course, when his only son screwed up

— “again.”

But I found my male role models where they were to be found — as all boys do, whether there’s a man in the house or not. Across our lives, we meet a lot of people, men and women, whose lives represent ideals we model ourselves after and who become fathers and mothers to us. Indeed, when I became a father myself, I found that my best influences were my own sons and daughters, whose qualities of openness, curiosity, and playfulness continue to remind me of the kind of human being I want to be. The child is father to the man.

So, the argument that children need a male and a female in the house seems to me a little simplistic, if not merely specious when used to prop up opposition to same-sex marriages. Of course, when we are children we need to see good models in men and women both of how to be human. We find those role models where we can and not always from a present mother or father. The only thing children really need in the house is love and the security love gives us to become who we are. Come to think of it, I can’t think of anything else that adults really need in the house, either.

• Jim Hale lives in Juneau.

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