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Fathers from The Greatest Generation

14
Coulter

I love reminiscing about my father and really all the dads who were part of our community growing up. One reason is that my dad (and I hope yours too) was a treasure to me. Another is that the things they did would be so funny and seemingly out of place today.

Nowadays my father would be considered an irresponsible dad. Many of the activities he considered to be perfectly fine are now frowned upon. We kids regularly drove around without seatbelts while my dad chain-smoked Salem cigarettes. We went trick-or-treating by ourselves, so Dad never hovered within a few feet of us to pounce on a potentially lethal treat. He never attended a parenting class, so he was not aware of all the things that are considered harmful today like tap water, gluten, and sleeping on your stomach. Scheduling activities for his six children was also something my father never considered; he therefore never had to stand around with the other dads watching us engage in soccer, baseball, or ballet. He did not worry about where we were playing as long as we were home for dinner.

Nonetheless my father loved his children and was always there for us. He was truly an engaged dad. The difference is he did not worry about providing this perfect, risk-free life for his children. Many fathers today feel obligated to spend every waking minute running interference between their kids and the big bad world.

As I pause to reflect on how my father’s generation got the job of dad done, I find the differences striking. Today a good father is expected to solve his children’s problems, make their paths smoother, and help them get what they want. My father focused on being there for us kids, showing us the right path, and providing the things we really needed.

Fathers also play a big role in how we think about money and finance. My father learned about finance the hard way: he raised six children on his salary as an envelope salesman. (I doubt if any one actually sells envelopes today; they are ordered online.) Dad’s savings habits must have had something to do with my decision to pursue a career in financial counseling.

Sometimes I hear parents talking about the sacrifices they make for their children, but I know this for sure: my father did not look at parenting as a sacrifice. Instead it was an opportunity and a privilege. Today it is hard to view the job of a father in this light due to the incredible amount of energy and focus it takes to be a good one.

I urge all dads to take time today to reflect upon the lessons you are imprinting upon your children. Pause to celebrate the way the Greatest Generation got the dad job done. Although parenting mistakes are made in every era, we can learn some valuable lessons to pass on for generations to come.

A business edition of this article was featured in the June 17th print version of the Knoxville News Sentinel. Tom Coulter, President of Meridian Trust, can be reached at tcoulter@trustmeridian.com.