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THE POWER OF FATHERING
I first heard the voice when I was 3 or 4 years old and my father was reciting, ”Baa, baa, black sheep, have you any woooool?” I remember his long arms around me as I sat on his lap. My father toyed and teased with the sound of words. The discovery of a sound that pleases is the discovery of a new language. The trick is to be led to that sound.

My father, like many fathers, anticipated the joy his child might feel at hearing a word stretched and pulled. He pressed his tongue against the roof of his mouth, pursed his lips, forced a bit of extra air out of his lungs and produced a wonder sound: “woooool”.

“Yes, sir, yes, sir, three bags fuuuull.” Then it was time for bed.

Throughout my childhood my father created for me moments of fancy. He gave me hints, made suggestions that led me to the discovery of my imagination.

One autumn afternoon, when my legs were finally long enough, I took an empty peach basket and set it upside down beside the apple tree in our yard. That tree was shaped like a Y: the trunk in the middle with two thick branches leading up in different directions. My older brother and sister had long ago conquered the tree, so for me it was important to join their boasts.

I climbed on top of the peach basket and grabbed on to the trunk. With a great effort I began to pull myself up, slowly, until I managed to throw a leg over one branch, and there I finally sat with my legs straddling what once belonged exclu-sively to the big kids.

I did not realize that my father was watching me from the lawn. He called out, “So you made it!”

“Yes,” I trumpeted back.

“Do you think that’s an elephant?” he asked.

I looked at the long branch that stretched out before me and then at the thicker one behind me, and suddenly I did feel as if I had climbed upon the back of a large, gray elephant. “Yes! This is a fine elephant.”

“Well, then ride to Bombay,” my father said. I did not know where Bombay was, but it sounded far away and the right place for elephants, so that is where I rode all afternoon.

As we get older, we focus on those things we trusted and believed in when we were children. For me, it was a voice that had a familiar tone regardless of who spoke. When in high school, one of my teachers read aloud Frank O’Connor’s “Christmas Morning” and in college a professor read excerpts from Herman Melville’s Billy Budd, I realized that I had been there before – on my father’s lap.

There are many points of entry to that simple place we call beauty or comfort or security. For me it was that universal voice in the guise of good men telling stories, pulling and stretching words, pointing out how a tree might look like a fabulous beast.

This next week the children will be focusing on male role models. There is no way to overestimate the importance of this influence. The pull of imagination, the courage to take risks, the quiet influence of integrity, and the goodness that can be in strength make a child secure for his whole life. We are grateful for the men in our lives.

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