(Mike Smith is the host of the radio program “Open Mike with Mike Smith” on WDEV 550 AM and 96.1, 96.5, 98.3 and 101.9 FM. He is a regular columnist for VTDigger and a political analyst for WCAX-TV and WVMT radio. He was the secretary of administration and secretary of human services under former Gov. Jim Douglas.)
Last year I wrote about my father’s alcoholism. It’s a horrible disease. He died at the age of 44 because — essentially — he drank himself to death. It’s easy to focus on his disease. No doubt my father’s memory will always be overshadowed by his addiction. Sadly, the lasting impact of alcoholism is that it steals away so many memories of who that person actually is — or might have been — absent this disease.
But, to me, my father’s legacy isn’t about his alcoholism; instead, his legacy centers on those qualities that he instilled in me before the disease changed him. He taught me about compassion toward others, especially those who are sometimes ignored or forgotten. He insisted that I respect others, no matter their status in life.
And despite all the devastating impacts his alcoholism had on our family, I think of myself as lucky. I had a father in my life. My father’s life was relatively brief and complicated, but every Father’s Day I focus on the good in our relationship rather than his struggles. Perhaps the best advice that I can give on this Father’s Day is to think of your dad and recall the good experiences and hold on to them. And if he is still in your life, you might even tell him about it.
Unfortunately, because of a variety of circumstance, 23 percent of children under the age of 18 in this country live with a single mother, according to a 2016 report by the U.S. Census Bureau. Since 1960 this percentage has nearly tripled, from 8 percent. This figure varies depending on economic status and race. Many of these children don’t have a father in their life. For them, this is a fatherless Father’s Day.
Sometimes families split apart because of divorce, death or abandonment. Each of these events has a devastating impact on children. They may struggle to succeed, and mothers often struggle to help them find success.
Recently I heard some single moms talk about the challenges as they try to pursue a college degree. They constantly juggle the demands of their work, the needs of their children and their desire to further their education. In some cases there is little help. A few of these women broke into tears as they explained their challenges. And somehow, they are still motivated to get their college degree.
But don’t we have a collective responsibility to step in and help mothers and their children?
Isn’t our legacy defined by how well we instill in future generations core principles and skills that foster success? Without us, then who? The core beliefs of honesty, hard work, persistence and compassion are the building blocks of success.
So how do we instill these principles of success into future generations?
We mentor a child. We contribute to organizations and fund programs that help children become independent and successful adults. In some cases this means we need to rethink how we deliver our social services. Compassion cannot be measured solely by the commitment to provide social services, or how many people we enroll. In most cases, that’s the easy part. It must also be measured by how many people we help achieve independence and success from social services. That’s the standard we should hold ourselves to, and that standard is much harder to achieve.
On this Father’s Day it is important to remember our dads, but it’s equally important to remember those children who don’t have fathers and to reinforce our commitment to helping them achieve success.