Saturday, June 16, 2012
Book Review: Wisdom of Our Fathers
This book isn't just for Father's Day. It is for fathers, for sons, for daughters, and for those who have that man in their lives who may have been the disciplinarian, the weekend coach, the tea party guest, or clown. It is about those men who often do those little things that mean an awful lot. This is a fitting celebration of fathers and the impact they have on their children.
Many know Timothy John “Tim” Russert as the moderator of NBC’s Meet the Press. He was a regular political correspondent on The Today Show and Hardball. But who could have thought that this hard-nosed journalist would have such a tender heart as he shared the many testimonies of people and their relationships with their fathers in response to his book Big Russ and Me? As he collected letters and e-mails from strangers, he compiled their stories into Wisdom of Our Fathers. In it, he included personal accounts of his relationship as a son to Timothy Joseph Russert and as father to his son Luke.
“But when Luke was born, I suddenly understood the meaning of unconditional love,” Russert wrote. “My love for Luke was natural, complete, and instinctive. Suddenly there were no more spontaneous happy hours after work, no more late-night movies … My career became secondary to the blessing of being a father.”
He tells of the moment he discovered his son had gotten a tattoo, the initials “TJR” (his and Big Russ’s initials) on the side of his son’s torso. Initially livid, Russert’s anger subsided when his son explained that after reading Big Russ and Me, he “wanted you and Grandpa to always be by my side.”
There is the story of the father who received a Mother’s Day card in the mail every year from his daughter, his only child, thanking him for raising her alone. “But my dad took over mom duty when my mother died in 1974, well before the movie Mr. Mom made grocery-shopping, bread-baking, laundry-doing dads cool. And he took his mom role seriously.”
There is another story of a father who worked as a milkman, who needed to be up at 3 o’clock in the morning for his job. However, he would always sit up to listen to his child talk about problems, often about being teased by other children. Despite his exhaustion, he felt that being there for his child was more important than his rest.
There are fathers who give advice. “First, never go into the bar business, even though it may look glamorous. It’s not. Second, take dance lessons when you’re young, because if you’re a good dancer, you can walk into a party and have the best-looking girl in your arms within the five minutes.”
A dye-house worker would often tell his children, “Choose good friends. If you walk past garbage, you will smell like garbage.”
Then there is the father who obviously has daughters: “The title of boyfriend means nothing in this house.”
One daughter about sums up how many see their fathers when she wrote: “I look at my father’s rough, worn, and cracked hands, and I am reminded of the life he has lived. He worked hard, sacrificed for his family, and struggled for everything he has ever had. But underneath that rough exterior are gentle hands that picked us up when we cried, carried us through the rough spots, pulled us up when we fell down, patted us on the back when we achieved success, and hugged us each night before we went to bed as he told us how much he loved us.”
Tim Russert passed away on June 13, 2008 from coronary artery disease, leading to a fatal heart attack. After his father’s passing, Luke Russert visited the Meet the Press set, touching his father’s empty chair. “I’m going to keep that chair forever,” he said. “That’s my chair now.”
Farah A. Ferguson
Social Sciences Department