On Fathers and Father Figures

One Saturday morning a few years back, my husband looked dejected as he nursed his thick-as-mud coffee. When I asked what was wrong, he explained that the prior night, when he had entered #1 Son’s room to “chat” at 11:00, he had received the cold shoulder.

“Wouldn’t you have reacted the same way when you were 16?” I asked.

“Yes, but things were different then,” he said.

What ensued was a conversation about how “things” really aren’t different now, and very few 16-year-old boys would welcome the opportunity to “rap” (the old definition) with their dads late at night. It has been that way since the Stone Age.

Most teenagers need just one adult – and preferably a non-family member – to turn to for guidance and advice. The Big Brothers/Big Sisters organization understands this concept, as do youth group programs world-wide.

I’m grateful that my own kids have other caring adults in their lives, and, as my youth-group’s reunion draws near, I’m grateful that I had similar influences.

For my first son, great mentoring has come from coaches who understood how to channel his considerable energy and provide guidance regarding life priorities. Whenever I see Coach Mac, who led the select baseball team for four years, I’m filled with gratitude for his role in my son’s growth. Stephanie, a patient, kind and brilliant fifth-grade teacher, recognized and encouraged my son’s academic strengths, and helped turn him into the confident college-bound student he is today.

Young Life leaders play a critical role in my second son’s life. They have provided a safe community in which he can develop as a young adult. High school girls often show up at the female leader’s doorstep at night to discuss boy trouble, and I’m sure that my son asks the male leaders about faith, parties, relationships and sports.

My third son is fortunate that a cool 30-something Ferrari-lover lives down the road; he is always willing to share his knowledge about gears and wheels, as well as his time. My daughter will probably turn to her dance-studio owner for boy-talk and mentoring in the future; I know the older dance-company members do.

In this day and age, with religious leaders regularly crossing the line of appropriate behavior with young people, and even some teachers making foolish choices (remember Mary Kay Letourneau and her 13-year-old student-lover?), it’s understandable that some parents would fear or bar mentoring relationships. However, they could be closing the door to critical positive influences.

So, in the aftermath of another Father’s Day, let’s remember to support and celebrate the “father figures” and stand-in moms who impact our children’s lives:

– The coach who gives your awkward, growing-too-fast child the courage and confidence to keep trying;

– The teacher who assures your daughter that although the words are spelled incorrectly, the story reads beautifully;

– The neighbor who gives your child his first work experience through yard work or child care, and praises him for being on time and cleaning up;

– The former babysitter who comes back to visit your kids during college breaks, and asks questions about their lives;

– The youth group adviser who so freely gives his time, simply because he cares about kids.

I’m so glad that my own parents enabled my relationships with adult mentors, especially Marge and Hortie Kellogg, who helped guide me and hundreds of others through high school. My parents never questioned our youth-group activities or the leaders’ intentions. They never seemed jealous of the time I spent talking with other adults, and didn’t pry into my personal life.

My relationship with my parents was fine, but I don’t recall confiding in them; instead, I leaned on Hortie and Marge, who offered consistency, support and wisdom during the confusing yet exciting teen years. They led youth-group meetings several times a week, chaperoned three weekend retreats a year, accompanied groups on week-long summer service projects and kept their doors and hearts open at all times for one-on-one discussions.

On snow days and other school breaks, groups of us would take the “el” train downtown Chicago and head to Marshall Field’s, where Hortie worked, for impromptu visits. He always stopped whatever he was doing to meet with us, and occasionally treated us to Frango-Mint Pie in the store’s café.

Hortie and Marge’s influence and availability meant so much to me, and established a model for my own parenting. I may be a few decades late, but I plan to thank them at next week’s reunion.

-Linda Williams Rorem, 20 June 2011


  1. What wonderful mentors they were! And the Tate’s and Ken Schultz too. Please give everyone hugs for me at the reunion!


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