The Leadership Only a Man Can Provide
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Commentator Caroline Langston remembers the men who helped raise her. There are things, she says, that only a strong male figure can provide.
Ms. CAROLINE LANGSTON (Commentator): I was 8-years-old when my father died. He was middle aged on the day I was born. The seeds of the cancer that would kill him already flowering in his lungs. I recall one afternoon he took me with him to go shooting. A fact that seems to me now both reckless and exotic, but which in that time and place was as natural as sun and air.
This was in the Mississippi Delta. The sound of the rifle firing hurt my ears. I couldn't have been more than 5. What I remember most, though, is what came next. A wasp descended from its giant cone to sting me and my father sprang into action. He was scared I would have an allergic reaction, my mother said years later. He whisked me into his arms and into the truck and drove as fast as he could back home, cotton fields speeding by. Less than three years later, I stood in the funeral home before his polished gray casket.
A cynic would say that I have been looking for replacement fathers ever since. It's hardly a coincidence that I would grow up to join a church with an all-male priesthood. For years, I never could understand what a role of father seemed to be so utterly devalued - the butt of jokes on sitcoms.
But while I, too, had lost my father, I was fortunate to receive fathering from other men who would be there to watch out for me. The older brother who raised me, the church elders who sent an anonymous check for the expenses the tuition wouldn't cover.
I think in particular about Mr. Bensley(ph), the teacher of my art history class when I was in the 11th grade. He was roughly my father's generation. He had served in World War II, then majored in art at Yale. He looked like the actor James Mason. His lecture on St. Mark's Square in Venice was illustrated with slides with his beautiful wife kneeling among pigeons.
In a boarding school full of adolescent geniuses and trust fund hippies, I was totally undistinguished. But Mr. Bensley took me seriously and made me feel loved.
Before class each day, he let me make a cup of coffee from his private stash in the audiovisual equipment room - the beginning of a lifelong caffeine addiction and a ritual that comforts me still.
It was the smallest of gestures but it saved my life. Mr. Bensley's attention gave me a wall to feel safe and the strength to imagine what I could become.
In a time when it is clear that millions of children will grow up without their fathers, in which the very idea of contemporary fatherhood remains vexed and confused, men must offer up the leadership that only they can provide, tempered with compassion, gentleness and mercy.
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SIEGEL: Caroline Langston is a writer in Cheverly, Maryland.
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