(I am re-posting this as I do every February 12, on Monday, Feb. 12, 2018, the 209th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth.)
This site is mostly about the funnier aspects of fatherhood. But while humor is necessary to get through the insane situations your kids put you in, being a dad isn’t all silliness.
When you become a father, your responsibilities increase by an immeasurable rate. You are not just in charge of yourself, you are in charge of another life and all that it can become from the moment it enters the world. Everything you have done before that moment you hold your child for the first time doesn’t matter anymore. Everything you do from that moment on, for better or worse, will be etched in perpetuity.
You will wake up every day, and know that this experience will not end. Ever. Even after you are gone. You will find yourself amazed every day at what this life will bring to yours. You will make decisions that at times will not be enjoyable for yourself or your child. But you have to do such things because you have to. And sometimes, as a father, that is the only reason that matters. Because you have to.
I can’t think of anyone who, during the worst time in the history of the United States, had to do so much just because he had to than Abraham Lincoln. And because of this, he became the true Father of Country.
There is that old expression that says you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your relatives. Whether you like it or not, and no matter how you might try to deny it, your family is your family and you are inextricably linked. You can’t get out of your blood or your roots.
To Lincoln, that was the case with the United States. And when the Southern states tried to leave the nation, he did the only thing he could do. He had to punish the South for breaking up what he believed was a family. Parents like to say, “This hurts me more than it will hurt you.” when they have to punish their children. I have no doubt that no one hurt more than Lincoln did when he knew that all of his people would suffer immeasurably as a result of his responsibility to save them.
Yet, Lincoln did what he had to do because it had to be done. Sometimes when you are a father, that’s the only reason you need.
And like a father should in times of trouble, or when his children inevitably do something wrong, something hurtful to their parents, Lincoln never turned his back on his people. It’s right there in his Second Inaugural Address in which he proclaimed, “With malice toward none; with charity for all,” letting all know that they were still one in spite of the pain spread across the nation.
But Lincoln didn’t deal with his country’s pain just in the abstract or from a distance. As if knowing that thousands of young men were dying and that the nation could fall apart every day, Lincoln had to watch his own 11-year-old son, Willie, die of a fever in early 1862, and then deal with the depression of his wife, Mary Todd, through the rest of his presidency.
How Lincoln managed to hold himself together while facing the breakup of his country just a few miles from the White House makes me feel ashamed for complaining about “problems” like having to pick up my daughters from school, give them a bath and then get them into bed just so that my wife and I can watch “American Idol” before it gets too late at night.
I have admired Lincoln since I was a boy, most likely since I wondered who this bearded man was on the five-dollar bill. We were always taught about how great Lincoln was for freeing the slaves, and when I went to Washington, D.C. for the first time, the most-important thing for me to see was the Lincoln Memorial. It was there, standing before the giant, seated statue of Lincoln, flanked by the walls inscribed with the words of his Second Inaugural and the Gettysburg Address, that I first felt a connection with Lincoln that was something more than a simple picture in a children’s storybook.
I still think about Lincoln nearly every day and how he hoped that his people could experience “a new birth of freedom” in spite of spending four years making war upon each other. Now that I have two daughters, my favorite story about him may be an apocryphal one, but to me it encompasses what it means to be a father.
Faced with an important decision, Lincoln asked his Cabinet for a vote on the matter. One by one each Cabinet member voted “No.”
Lincoln purposely saved his vote for last, and when his turn came, he said, “The vote is seven against and one in favor…The measure passes.”
Sometimes, as a father, you have to do what you have to do simply because it must be done. Even if no one else sees it that way. Lincoln always did what had to be done and that made him the Father of Our Country.