So here it is, Father’s Day.
As a holiday, it’s always sort of played second fiddle to Mother’s Day. In fact, while Mother’s Day has been a national holiday since Woodrow Wilson officially proclaimed it in 1914, Father’s Day is a relative newcomer. Despite the fact that people have celebrated it for years, it wasn’t really officially permanent until Richard Nixon signed it into law in 1972. Thanks, Tricky Dick!
A few years back, I did a column honoring history’s toughest mothers. So now, it seems only fair to talk about some of history’s great fathers:
Phillip II of Macedon: From an early age, Phillip wanted his son Alexander to be ready to take over the family business, said business being ruling the kingdom of Macedon and kicking butt up, down and all around the Aegean Sea area.
To that end, he got one of his generals, Lysimachus, to tutor the boy when he was just a sprout. Later, recognizing that there was more to being a great ruler than warfare, Ol’ Phil hired one of the greatest minds of his or any other era, Aristotle, to continue his son’s schooling.
Good education, however, doesn’t come cheap, and in order to secure Aristotle’s services, Phillip had to give him an entire temple to use as a classroom and rebuild the old man’s hometown of Stageira, which Phillip had sacked. I’ll think of this the next time I want to complain about college tuition.
Phillip also knew how to encourage his boy’s dreams. When 10-year-old Alexander realized that the “unridable” horse Dad had brought home was shying away from its own shadow, he tamed the beast by the ruse of riding him while facing the sun (at least at first). An amazed Phillip told him to “find a kingdom big enough, boy, because Macedon is too small for you.”
He also bought him the horse, which Alex named Bucephalas (“ox head”) and rode into battle for years. Even when Phillip and Alexander had a falling out (over a new wife Phillip had taken), they eventually patched things up. Alexander succeeded his dad after the old man’s assassination, after which he proceeded to conquer most of the known world and become known as Alexander the Great. That’s what good parental training can do.
Charlemagne: The Emperor of the Franks in the late 8th and early 9th centuries had either 18 or 20 children (depending on who you ask), and he insisted that all of them be educated — even the girls, which was unusual for the time.
He also declined to engage in the usual practice of marrying his daughters off to various nobles for political gain rather than for love.
Finally, Charlie was a very forgiving dad. When his firstborn, the unfortunate Pepin the Hunchback, was discovered to be plotting a revolt to depose his papa, Charlemagne allowed him to shave his head and join a monastery. Not an ideal ending from Pepin’s point of view, to be sure, but certainly better than the creatively nasty fates usually decreed for rebels and traitors in those days.
If there’s anything a good father needs, it’s the capacity for forgiveness.
Theodore Roosevelt Sr.: The father of the 26th president of the U.S. must have been one extraordinary man.
Let Teddy himself tell the tale:
“He combined strength and courage with gentleness, tenderness and great unselfishness. He would not tolerate in us children selfishness or cruelty, idleness, cowardice, or untruthfulness. … The same standard of clean living was demanded for the boys as for the girls; that what was wrong in a woman could not be right in a man. …
“He was interested in every social reform movement, and he did an immense amount of practical charitable work himself, and his heart filled with gentleness for those who needed help or protection, and with the possibility of much wrath against a bully or an oppressor.” With a dad like that, young Theodore grew up to become a pretty amazing fellow himself: cowboy, police commissioner, governor, war hero, reformer, president — and that was all before he was out of his 40s.
Being a father is hard, sometimes scary work. Sometimes even the best dads make mistakes. But the good ones hang in there and keep trying, because that’s what the future demands.
On this day, give your dad a hug if he’s still around and let him know you appreciate that. Trust me, he’ll like it more than a tie or any other material gift you could give him.