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The Father Factor


When It's Over But It's Not

People Magazine recently reported that the on again/off again engagement of Bristol Palin and Levi Johnston is…well, off again. Bristol asserted firmly in the article that “it’s over.” Apparently, the news that Johnston may have gotten another woman pregnant was the last straw. She said, “Levi was just like, ‘Bristol, there is a possibility that I could be a father of this other baby.’” Through tears she told the People magazine reporter, “The fantasy I had of us three being a family was a game to him. He’s never going to change.” Frankly, I am a bit surprised that Bristol is surprised. He posed nude for Playgirl for goodness sake…

I remember when I first saw Johnston on stage at the Republican National Convention. He looked extremely uncomfortable in his suit, a bit like a little boy someone dressed up for Easter Sunday. Looked to me like he couldn’t wait for the “service” to be over so that he could go and slide in the “mud” in his new suit. When you’re Levi’s age, this is usually a co-ed activity.

Now, I was a bit sympathetic to his plight. I even wrote this article in my Washington Times column to help folks get a better understanding of what I think is going on in a teen father’s head. You see, I have a some experience in this area. When I was about Levi’s age, I got my girlfriend pregnant. But, I married her because I knew instinctively that fatherhood means the death of boyhood. Indeed, the difference between boyhood and manhood is the ability to say “no” to the wrong things and “yes” to the right ones. I have a feeling that Levi has yet to learn this lesson.

And that’s the problem. By the time he does get “schooled” on the fact that his actions have consequences, chances are that Bristol will have built a nearly insurmountable wall of resentment that could make it very difficult for him to see his son. Moreover, his son too may have years of hurt and anger built up because his dad valued “reality TV” more than the reality that he needed to be an involved, responsible and committed father.

Alas, despite Bristol’s firm declaration to the contrary, when you’re a father, it’s never “over.” I have taken more than enough calls from fathers in his situation to know that this is just the beginning. And there is no fantasy about that.

Daddy's Home

While I was flipping through the radio on my way home from work recently, the lyrics of a song on a station I don’t normally listen to caught my attention, and I stopped to figure out what the song was about.

…all I wanna hear
Is you say Daddy’s home, ohh home for me
And I know you’ve been waiting for this lovin' all day
You know your daddy’s home, it’s time to play
(“Daddy’s Home” by Usher)

I immediately had a flashback to my childhood. As a little girl, I used to drop whatever I was doing as soon as I heard the heavy flight boots of my father, who was an officer in the Air Force, walk through the door. I’d exclaim, “Daddy’s home!” and run up to the front door and jump in his arms.

My younger sisters liked to hide and make Dad find them. He always played along with the game – “Where’s Claire? Where’s Pamela?... she’s not behind the couch… oh there she is!”

Dad coming home was the highlight of our day, and we couldn’t wait to tell him all about the fun things we had done, show him the pictures we had colored, or drag him to come play with us. (Admittedly, we outgrew this stage after about age 6, to Dad’s disappointment.)

However, the song on the radio did not match these happy memories. The sexualized lyrics made it clear that the exclamation of “Daddy’s home” was not the joy of a child running into the safe and loving arms of a father.

Every little girl has a craving for the tenderness of a father who cherishes her, treats her like a princess, and protects her – Daddy is often her first true love. When there is no Daddy coming home, or Daddy coming home is a scary occasion and not a happy one, a young woman will often look to other men later in life to fill her need for a father’s affection. Unfortunately, the men who are all too eager to fill that void often don’t cherish her, treat her like a princess, or protect her – too often it’s quite the opposite.

Usher’s song gave me a new understanding of our culture’s father absence crisis, and made me sad for the girls for whom “Daddy’s home” never meant to them what it meant to me. Now, I am all the more grateful that I have a wonderful father who was just as excited to see me at the end of the day as I was to see him.

Renae and her siblings greet daddy at the door (c. 1992).

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