June 21, 2009
Extreme fatherhood seems to be in style these days. The ideal family of 2.5 children is as passé as 33 RPM records and platform shoes on men. If you are to believe reality television, families of eight to 18 children are the only ones of any interest.
I have trouble choosing names for my few furry progeny. Imagine having to label enough offspring to fill a small stadium. Some people make it even more complicated by starting each child''s name with the same letter. Few simplified the name game as easily as George Foreman. He just called all the boys "George Foreman," and added roman numerals to designate I, II, III, etc. Well that is a very long list.
On the other end of the procreation spectrum is the recurring theme of "The Maury Povich Show." Here, guests must take a paternity test to discover who is a "baby daddy." The men on this show are so delighted to learn that they are not fathers that they jump around the stage, hooping like a wild animal. The "baby mama" usually cries, and runs off stage, confused about the actual identity of her child''s father.
(I suppose most of us wonder how she could not know. If you asked that question, then you probably remember when no bride would ever face the altar in a strapless ball gown, and husbands were always [presumably] the father of children.)
Today we honor real fathers. A real father is not necessarily a husband, or a biological father, or perhaps not even the same species as his children. The only requirement is a heart that is soft and strong, with wisdom and innocence, and the perception to know which of these contradictory sides to reveal. Certainly, no easy task.
A father must worry about college funds and the cost of braces, while pretending that he is not worried about anything at all. Those TV fathers of "multuplets" do not have such concerns. They are paid big bucks to expose their families to the invasions of cameras and millions of prying eyes.
My friend, Willis Pope, once told me," One thing we do really well here is to raise children." It was during one of those conversations where I was droning on and on about Mississippi talent, and how this state is so under-appreciated. He put it back in perspective for me. Is anything more important?
This is a day for men to set aside doubts and regrets about your role. If you were there, if you loved, if you gave your child a push on a new bike, or a shove out of the nest, you should consider yourself a success.
I fear for the children of reality TV. Their lives are a double-edged sword. On one hand, they are under constant scrutiny from invisible strangers. On the other hand, they seem desperate for attention from their parents. There just isn''t enough of that to go around. The portions are spread too thinly. Isn''t it obvious that humans were not meant to produce litters?
I hope these children''s lives will be filled with laughter and a more mellow limelight. As a rule, child stars have a sad track record. At least they''ll have each other, and perhaps some money left for therapy.
To all you men who raised a family (human or otherwise) smaller than the cast of a Broadway musical, I say, be proud. Your children probably love and appreciate you for not treating them like a roadside attraction, and for acknowledging them without a paternity test. In all probability, they are grateful, too, that you gave them individual names.
Happy Fathers'' Day! Now, take a rest.
Adele Elliott, a New Orleans native, moved to Columbus after Hurricane Katrina.
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