Nation needs strong ‘Fathers’

Published 10:17 am Thursday, June 18, 2015

Our image of an ideal father has been shaped in part by father figures at the national level — starting with George Washington as the Father of our Country. His strong leadership shepherded us through a war with weak, tepid support from half the country — a collection of colonies that desperately needed to be glued together. He was the glue.

And after a successful separation from a monarchy, Washington, like a wise and benevolent father, declined to be crowned king or potentate, preferring to be president for a limited period of time. The towering tree which shelters and shades in due time yields to the young. Sons become fathers.

Abraham Lincoln evolved from country lawyer to national father figure. The name Abraham means “father of many.” Saddened to see a cleavage cut our country in two, Lincoln instinctively knew the breach had to healed for the collective good. After all, of the founding fathers, who spoke more eloquently and forcefully than the Virginians? Patrick Henry. Jefferson, Madison, Monroe. So Lincoln issued a call for more troops.

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We are coming, Father Abraham, three hundred thousand more,

From Mississippi’s winding stream and New England’s shore.

We are coming, we are coming, our Union to restore,

We are coming, Father Abraham, three hundred thousand more.

At Gettysburg, Lincoln spoke of “our fathers (who) brought forth a new nation dedicated to government of the people, by the people, for the people.”

One people, North and South, though now three hundred million more. Our ills today stem in part from national leaders who are Father Followers rather than strong and benevolent Father Figures. Lacking a shepherd, the flock feuds. On both sides of the aisle, weakness and poll politics predominate — allowing division by race, class, gender, and geography. The division spills out onto the street.

On this Father’s Day, let us pray for the best kind of strong fathers. We don’t need Father Absent or Father Follower. Nature — and also children and citizens — abhors a vacuum since nasty stuff rushes in to fill the void. Children are guided by forces outside the home, citizens fall prey to feuding and factionalism.

Yes, we have idealized the leadership and good fatherly guidance of Washington and Lincoln. And though scholars may argue over just how “religious” they were, I believe both bowed their heads and prayed for guidance. May we — three hundred million more — do likewise, a heavenly petition for strong leadership to strengthen families and unify a nation.


James F. Burns is a father, grandfather, and retired professor at the University of Florida.