Dream Weavers: Honoring the Fathers Who Make us Fly, Dr. Robert Zuber

18 Jun


My father didn’t tell me how to live; he lived, and let me watch him do it. Clarence Budington Kelland

Whoever does not have a good father should procure one. Friedrich Nietzsche

My mother gave me my drive, but my father gave me my dreams. Thanks to him, I could see a future. Liza Minnelli

I bet after seeing us, George Washington would sue us for calling him ‘father.’  Will Rogers

This was a week at the UN when many challenges and hopeful images washed over this community.  The building was filled with persons with various disabilities seeking to solidify their legitimate rights while reminding the rest of us here that not everyone can achieve – or even seeks to achieve – the erstwhile “perfections” of mobility and sensation that are so commonplace in UN spaces.

We also witnessed important discussions inside and outside the Security Council to strengthen efforts to prohibit the production and use of landmines and other improvised explosive devices that strike fear into communities, inhibit development, discourage displaced families from returning home, and create new legions of disabled persons as legacies of our collective failure to address conflict in its earliest stages.

And then there was the beginning of a negotiating process that will result in a “treaty” to prohibit (at a minimum) the production and use of nuclear weapons, hopefully in some not-too-distant future leading to their eventual elimination.

But this is Father’s Day weekend, and it’s my struggle to find a way to honor fathers and relate to such a policy and gender-complex environment as the UN tends to be.  Here goes…..

An article this week in a New York newspaper described the role of most fathers in their families, despite or perhaps due to shifting gender roles, as something akin to a backup musician to a lead singer:  helping to keep the show on track but not a headliner.  “Face it,” Bob Brody warned fathers in fact and prospect, “you’re doomed to lifelong tenure as the runner-up parent. ”

I will never be a parent but, as some of you know, I do dabble as an amateur bird watcher.  Perhaps for this reason, the Brody quote reminded me that birds have a relatively straightforward contract with their young:  providing food, protection and a nudge out of the nest when it is time for them to take off on their own.  We humans have a much more complex relationship to progeny, as any good psychologist will tell you, but even within this complexity there are essential tasks associated with children: taking care of their basic needs, protecting them through their vulnerable developmental phases, and lovingly escorting them out the front door of the family home when it is time for them to find their own way.

Indeed at some point in life, ready or not, it is time for all of us to go forth, to make our own decisions, to stand on our own feet, to love who and how we can, to “rebuild better” what has been broken, to scrape our own knees and find the ointment and bandages needed to bind our wounds and stay in the game.  Despite the false hope often communicated to us through our ubiquitous “devices,” there are dimensions of life – fortunate and unfortunate — that will forever remain outside our control.  Hopefully they will not also remain outside our circle of concern or our capacity to respond with some compassion and effectiveness.  We can indeed response to life’s challenges, even the harsher ones, while keeping our hearts and minds propped open and the switch that powers our hope in the “on” position.

Frankly, I worry about more than a few of the young men in my life and especially here at the UN, their apparent deficits of autonomy and self-determination, their confusion about their value independent of the women, parents and teachers in their lives. I also work within a system displaying a somewhat schizophrenic relationship to gender: the needs of men and boys are now virtually invisible relative to those of women and girls, the latter of which now pop up in virtually every UN policy discussion, from landmines and nuclear weapons to disabilities.  And yet, for all this understandable institutional attention to the deprivations imposed on women and girls in diverse circumstances, the UN remains very “male” space and not often in the best sense – in the genetics of much of its leadership, of course, but also in its proclivity to defend institutional “turf” and its consistently formalized and distancing policy rhetoric.  And to top that off, there are too few persons of either gender who seem terribly interested in changing the system’s culture beyond uncluttering the pathways to their own personal advancement.

Sometimes the burdens of being in this conflicted policy space – like the burdens of life in general — seem too great to bear, or at least too great to bear alone.  But we will never truly know our capacities – how far we can push, how much we can endure, how significant are our powers to heal others and transform systems – unless we put ourselves fully to the test, or until someone who matters to us insists that we take that test. What are sure to be unsettled times ahead will require much of us: stamina, patience, tenacity, dependability and resourcefulness – virtues we must practice diligently in the world for them to take hold and for which a bevy of academic degrees and “next gen” smartphones are no substitute.

In this world of tests that seem so challenging and so prone to end in disappointment, it is perhaps reasonable that so many young people with options to “lay low” would seek to do so.   But we can insist that those under our care get the pushes they require to leave the safety of the nest once and for all, to secure places in the world to test and practice their skills and virtues, hopefully fulfilling at least some of their dreams in the process.  The best fathers I know are happy to cheer on their progeny and other young people throughout this process, to accompany their joys and scrapes and provide perspective when life choices become a confusing maze.  But the best fathers I know also understand that dreams shrivel and die unless they are pursued in the world fully, effectively, collectively, even fearlessly.

And so big thanks goes to fathers – both biological and functional – who insist that the young people they raise and otherwise engage stay committed to full involvment in our anxious world, doing their part and weaving their dreams.  A push from the nest is unlikely to improve a father’s “runner-up” status as a parent; indeed it might reinforce that status in the eyes of some.  But there are few better things we can do for our young people, let alone for the world they are set to inherit, than to insist that they take wing and get on with their journey.


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