Charles E. Richardson

RICHARDSON: What missing fathers miss

CAPE SAN BLAS, Fla. --

The waters here are as deep and blue as any I’ve seen in our many beach trips up and down Florida’s east and west coasts. Also on display during this spring holiday weekend is fatherhood at its best.

In one of the neighboring condos is a family from Ohio with a young son and daughter. The father, even while playing catch with his son, is keeping an eye on his daughter each time she approaches the water.

Down the beach, young children, barely able to walk, are being indoctrinated into what will probably become a lifelong love of the beach. The mothers I see seem to turn over parental duties to the fathers on the beach, while they read and relax.

While so many of our children are being raised without their fathers, it is the fathers who are really missing out. Certainly they miss out on the hard work that’s at times exasperating, but they miss out on what I’m experiencing here with four grandchildren in tow: energy. Children have energy and they pass that energy to adults if we’ll let them. And I don’t mean just physical energy.

They say and do things that you’ll always want to remember. When my grandson Paul and I were standing on the beach watching the sun set, he said, “That’s the most beautiful sunset I’ve ever seen.” Coming from a 15 year old, I thought that was somewhat profound. It reminded me of all the possibilities in front of him to see many more beautiful sunsets.

Fathers who aren’t around to teach their children what sand dunes are miss something great. We are here to pass on our accumulated knowledge to our offspring -- stuff found in books for sure, but better learned when seen up close and personal,

We also saw something I had never seen before -- a shark catch. A fisherman on the beach caught a 6-foot-long shark, pulled him onto the beach, took the hook out and released him. He also gave a warning as we took pictures: Don’t swim in the ocean in these parts after sunset because the sharks come closer to shore to feed. He didn’t have to tell us twice.

Absentee fathers, no matter how involved in their children’s lives, miss magical moments of discovery like this. Children want to show off what they’ve learned. These four with me are thrilled by sand and how much of it there is. I thrill at telling them that the waves come from the other side of the world and traveled here just to see them (grandparents have a license to stretch the truth). I watch their little eyes get big as saucers as they watch another fisherman on the beach clean his catch. They love fish, but I don’t know how much they knew about the cleaning part. One of them thought that the fish just magically ended up in the supermarket display case.

That’s what I mean by magical moments of discovery, and too many Macon fathers are missing out. While their children are also missing out, it’s hard to miss someone you’ve hardly known. And if these absentee fathers don’t know it already, a check, no matter how big, is no substitute for being there. You can’t replace the feeling of your daughter -- or in my case granddaughter -- falling asleep in your lap, or the struggling-to-stay-awake eyes of a grandson trying to watch to the end “Big Momma’s House 2.”

And what the absentee fathers won’t understand until it’s too late is that you get out what you put in. If you have little contact with your children when they’re young, they’ll have little contact with you when you’re old. They will show the same lack of concern for you as you showed for them. And you will not be able to blame them one bit because that’s the way you trained them to be. If you’re not around, you can’t blame the baby’s mama, either. If you want to be around your child and be part of their lives, you can do so. But I’m going to tell you a little secret. Being a father means being a man -- a man who is part watchdog, grizzly bear and golden eagle. A man is willing to fight for his right to be a father. Now I ask this question of absentee fathers: Are you man enough to fight for your rights as a father?

Charles E. Richardson is The Telegraph’s editorial page editor. He can be reached at 478-744-4342 or via email at crichardson@macon.com. Tweetchscale val="9.70000e-001"/>

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