tMichaelB is the web site for Tom Bengtson, who writes about business, religion, family and politics.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

A Father for All Seasons

I have written in the past about the importance of ordinary people writing their stories, and one person who has done so is Bob Welch, a columnist for The Register-Guard newspaper in Eugene, Ore. Welch is the father of two kids and he has compiled a number of moving stories in a book called “A Father for All Seasons.” It was published eight years ago, but until a friend gave me a copy of the book two weeks ago, I had never heard of it. I read it, and now I want to make sure as many people as possible hear about this book.

Welch is a pretty ordinary guy with a lot of ordinary stories. But those are precisely the stories that should be told and preserved. History should not be limited to the fantastic, the horrible and the amazing. Books like the one Welch wrote present a much more accurate reflection of life than do newspapers and television news.

Welch writes about the things that are important to him and does a great job weaving in comments about his faith. So many writers are afraid to deal with religion in their work. But they shouldn’t be. Every work of memoir, in my opinion, needs to deal with the writer’s relationship with God. If the writer doesn’t have a relationship with God, then that should be discussed in the book. Welch, however, has a pronounced relationship with God and he writes about it, seemingly without effort. Welch and I might quibble over some doctrinal points, but I found his seamless integration of spiritual reality into his work to be one of the strengths of the book.

As the title implies, the stories are presented in sections named after the seasons, starting with springtime. He walks us through stories that depict summer, fall, winter, and then a second spring. He writes about his parents, the death of his father, the birth of his sons, about the death of a friend’s son, about two boys who went off to Viet Nam, about his son going off to college, and about another father and son who struggle with a drug habit. Some of it is pretty heavy stuff, but almost all of it is stuff that is common to anyone alive today.

At one point, Welch writes about a father’s role as teacher: “Better to teach our sons the selfless character of Christ than the flawed character of ourselves…” he writes. “We should not teach our sons with flash cards that do nothing but embed in their minds memorized facts. Instead, we should teach our sons to seek wisdom from the Word. We should teach them less calculation and more character. We should teach them not to blindingly follow the world, but to faithfully follow the truth.”

At another point, he writes about a boy reaching the age of 21. The only way society acknowledges adulthood, he notes, is by giving him the right to purchase alcohol. He comments: “…manhood had much more to do with responsibilities than with rights. Manhood isn’t found in a bottle. It’s found in the hearts of men, in the form of such attributes as courage, humility and vulnerability.”

There is a chapter in the book where Welch makes reference to Jon Krakauer, the adventurer who chronicled his climb to the top of Mount Everest in the best-selling book “Into Thin Air.” Welch was a classmate of Krakauer and Welch comments that while he settled into a community and raised two sons with his wife, Krakauer and his wife chose not to have children so he could travel around the world and write fantastic adventure stories. Krakauer’s life seems so glamorous.

I think a lot of fathers feel that way. We can all identify a former acquaintance who went onto glamorous living while we fathers chose a relatively conventional life involving the raising of kids, a mortgage, and relative anonymity. You don’t win any notoriety for fatherhood, of course. It’s a thankless pursuit (that is, trying to be a good parent). If you’re lucky, your kids will thank you some day. They will say you were important in their life. But there’s no guarantee. It might not work out that way. In fact, parenting is a pretty big gamble.

But that is why it is so worth writing about. That is why Welch’s collection of stories, which seem so simple, is really quite fabulous.

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