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  • Paul Cumbo

Sons Teaching Fathers Teaching Sons

Tim Russert (1950-2008), longtime host of NBC's Meet the Press, is perhaps the most famous alumnus of Canisius High School. My seniors are in the middle of reading his memoir about his father, entitled Big Russ & Me - Father and Son: Lessons of Life.

This past Friday, we had a "Socratic Seminar" focused on this prompt: "Consider the forces that fathers exert upon their sons; likewise, consider the forces that sons exert upon their fathers. Using examples from your own experience as well as from Russert's book, offer your opinion as to which is the stronger net force."

What a conversation. I was impressed by the level of insight and the range of perspectives, as I often am during these seminar discussions. But there was one observation that really floored me. To paraphrase this young man: "Sons teach fathers the things they need to know in order to teach their sons, later on."

He went on to explain his thoughts. Essentially, he said, it is the experience of young fatherhood—that is, the early years of caring for infants and toddlers—that equips men with the qualities they need in order to serve as good models for their sons later in life. In this way, the force exerted is reciprocal—it eventually comes full circle.

Wow. Given that this student—only seventeen—is not a father himself, I thought it was a pretty astute observation.

It made me think about all the ways that the experience of raising three young kids (alongside their mother, of course!) has changed me. And I think my student is right. Maybe the years of young childhood are a forge in which the alloy of parenting is strengthened in preparation for the real trials to come—namely, adolescence.

I guess I'll let you know how that's going in about ten years, if I can still assemble cogent thoughts.


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