Today I’m celebrating my 11th Father’s Day as a dad. So far, not one necktie.
I’ve gotten lots of handmade cards. Got a pretty sweet ukulele one year. Plenty of intangible expressions of devotion (“Just leave Daddy alone in the hammock for a while”). I’ve loved every gift.
But you know what some dads want this year? Respect.
Have you seen how we’re reflected in the funhouse mirror of popular culture these days? It’s a dark time for dads.
The most famous TV dads used to be guys who had their heads screwed on straight – Robert Young from Father Knows Best, Hugh Beaumont on Leave It to Beaver. Bill Cosby? Andy Griffith, for crying out loud!
Now who are we saddled with? Chronic inebriate Homer Simpson. Family Guy’s Peter Griffin, a father who makes Homer Simpson look like Bill Cosby. Probably the hottest comedy on TV these days, ABC’s Modern Family, stars Ty Burrell as bumbling dad Phil Dunphy, actually praised by a Washington Post reviewer for his “new twist on the doofus-dad stereotype.”
The Post’s Hank Stuever might have borrowed the phrase from New York Times writer John Tierney, who wrote a column in 2005 called “The Doofus Dad,” in which he pointed out a study by the National Fatherhood Initiative that found “fathers are eight times more likely than mothers to be portrayed negatively on network television.”
And I get it. I don’t have to like it, but I get it. Authority figures have been ripe for mockery since the invention of humor, and dads probably are the easiest authority figures to relate to.
SO WHILE THE real dads are out there reading bedtime stories, tending to skinned knees or showing their kids how to throw a tight spiral with a football, the average dad on television is some hapless schlub waiting for his wife to bail him out of this week’s mess.
I know what you might be thinking: “Joe, Joe, Joe. Lighten up. These are fictional characters you’re fretting over. No father could be that big of an idiot in real life.”
Meet Orlando Shaw.
The 33-year-old Nashville, Tenn., man was in court recently. Through Child Support Services, he is being sued for back child support – and lots of it.
Shaw, the court says, has fathered 22 children by 14 women. The oldest is 18, meaning Shaw has been – ahem – “working with unwed mothers” since he was 15.
And guess what, ladies: He’s available.
“I was young and ambitious and I love women,” he told a reporter without one shred of embarrassment. “You can’t knock no man for loving women.”
No. He’s not “young and ambitious.” “Young and ambitious” means a desire to work tirelessly toward something better than what you have. It’s hitting the books for a college degree. It’s working two or three jobs.
Shaw would have to work three or four jobs – full-time – to pay the child support he owes, Magistrate Scott Rosenburg estimated.
But Shaw can’t pay it. He admits to playing the Tennessee lottery frequently, but darn it, he just can’t come up with the cash for child support.
AS A RESULT, the state of Tennessee is spending about $7,000 a month to help pay for the 22 kids that Shaw appears to be proud of – but can’t be bothered to actually parent.
I believe Tennessee’s penalty for shirking child support is up to six months in jail – a place Shaw seems to be acquainted with. I say give him the six months, at hard labor.
And here’s the labor: Put him to work at a day care center.
Looking after all his kids.
It may not earn him the respect that real fathers deserve, but it will serve justice.
A NOTE: In my column two weeks ago, I encouraged readers to donate to their local food banks this summer, because I thought kids who rely on school breakfasts and lunches to stay fed during the school year don’t get similar access to regular meals when school is out.
I’m happy to report I was mistaken.
I know this lady named Kathy Belinski. She has sat behind me a couple of times at church. What I didn’t know was that she’s the nutritional coordinator for Richmond County’s school system, and she helpfully pointed out to me recently that a lot of school systems have run summer food programs for many years.
“In Richmond County, we have sites throughout the county where children up to age 18 can walk-in for both breakfast and lunch,” she said. “There is no pre-qualification of any kind.”
At this writing, a press release about the program’s details is coming very soon, she said.
But please keep moving that food to the food banks this summer, folks. And the rest of the year, too.