The Line

My father was a responsible man. He didn’t play much, worked hard, and was tired at the end of the day. The “Pioneer Press” usually ended up lying flat on his chest about eight at night as he dozed off. The grind of pleasing people all day at the bank was wearing.

Moving from Gilman to St. Paul provided more opportunities for his children. This came at a cost. Education needed to be paid for; hard work the price. Like most parents, he wanted to give his children a better life than he had had.

Today many kids don’t have the man in the chair dozing off at the end of the day. “Family” in our time is understood in many different ways. Blended, step, single parent, and single sex parents are all considered articulations of the family. Tons of books have been written about these new families and how they’ve come to be.

There is a line through generations. This line can be seen at family reunions most easily in the eyes, noses, hairlines, and wrinkles of the older aunts and uncles. As people sit around picnic tables recounting stories from the past, genetic messengers lodged in aging bodies push similarities and common characteristics to the front. We are more like one another than we are different.

Parents give more than their DNA to their kids. Themes played in families are like movements of a symphony. The blend of notes makes sense and gives direction to the piece. There is a beginning, middle and an end. There are two conductors in this symphony however, directing often in harmony, and at times out of tune. Most times it is predictable. Other times discord prevails, outcomes change, but the music is still music.

Learning to be responsible comes from watching. Watching only one of the conductors leaves part of the music unplayed. The song is good, but unfinished.

The message sent repeatedly by the banker was strong. It came through to a second grader pushed to the front of a group of boys who had been acting out on the playground. No excuses, “I did it.” It also came through to a 14 year old who took the family car and promptly put it in the ditch on the way to a friend’s house one wintry afternoon. He told the friend’s father, “I did it.”

Many children have no father to learn from. He leaves, was never there, or is present in body only. The preoccupations of career or self-interest whirl him away from active involvement. A message is sent and received very clearly, “You are not important.”

The need to have a direction, to have a sense of one’s self remains. So the quest continues, often times ending up with peers, who are facing the same dilemma. They also have no one to watch. So they watch each other. Unclear limits, no direction, no one to ask, “Who are you?”

Or the media bombards the young man or woman with messages about what they are to be. This shoe, this jacket, this scent, this tight fitted jean points the way. Watching here serves the interest of an ad executive’s bottom line, not the under-pinnings of identity.

There is a line, from generation to generation. While new families give direction, an important part of the song is missing when a father is absent. The line is broken, free fall begins. The safety net has a hole. Some children fall through.


  1. Excellent! Bill Cosby would be proud. Until the problem is solved the downward spiral will continue and society will suffer all the more.

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