“How close are you supposed to be with your father?”
Written By: Nancy Ronquillo, President & CEO of Children’s Home & Aid
It is a question author Lisa Brennan-Jobs posed in “Small Fry” her memoir about growing up in a complicated family – like most of us do I suppose. Read More
Steve Jobs, Apple’s visionary co-founder, was Lisa’s father, although for the first several years of her life he denied that she was his child. After tests confirmed the truth of his parentage, her father began an on-again off-again pendulum swing between closeness, engagement, fatherly attention, and frigidity, distance, even cruelty.
As I read about Lisa’s relationship with her father and her mother as she was growing up, I thought a great deal about my own father and mother, and the struggle, joy, and confusion that came with their role as my parents in my life.
We had a big family. I had three brothers – one older and two younger, and then my sister, the youngest of my siblings.
I was very close with my Dad. He talked to me about life in a sort of grown-up philosophical way. He introduced me to the notions of the “power of positive thinking” and “mind over matter.” The ideas intrigued me, and to this day, I still think the ideas are worthwhile and helpful. He told me I could do anything I wanted to do in the world, and in the 1950s that was quite radical for a girl.
My Dad also struggled with alcoholism, from which he died prematurely. Although he had finally gotten on (and stayed on) “the wagon,” his liver gave out after decades of alcohol abuse. I was twenty-three and had just started graduate school. I felt entirely unmoored by his loss, even though his years of drinking had cast a long dark shadow over our entire family.
As I approach the threshold of a new chapter in my life, retiring from my decades-long involvement in the “change-the-world for children and families movement,” one of the most important and exciting initiatives I am privileged to be part of is the Power of Fathers. Looking back, I realize I would never have been able to accomplish what I dreamed for kids and families were it not for my Dad’s unshakeable and oft-expressed faith in me, in who I was, and in who I might become in the world.
I would venture to say that nearly every father feels exactly this way about their children. But in today’s world, we have lost sight of how to assure that each child is connected to their father in a positive and nurturing way. Policies, social conventions and deeper societal wounds such as racism pose enormous obstacles to the full engagement of fathers, especially low-income fathers of color, in the lives of their sons and daughters.
The Power of Fathers is forging a new path, working for change by using a holistic approach at every level – Child, Parent, Family, Community, Institutional, and Policy – with fathers leading the way.
“How close are you supposed to be with your father?” I would say close enough that every child grows up and brings their gifts to the world in the fullest way…and close enough that every father is able to inspire and support their children’s dreams and journey.