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What, exactly, is ‘a great dad’?


Following a period in which he was mostly known as everybody’s big fat favorite punch line, Chris Christie has a new distinction. On Monday he was named National Father of the Year.

The honor — previously bestowed upon fathers ranging from Gen. Douglas MacArthur to Shaquille O’Neal — was announced by an organization called the Father’s Day-Mother’s Day Council.

I’m sure the New Jersey governor did an exemplary job of helping raise his four children when he wasn’t otherwise distracted by traffic lane closings he knew absolutely nothing about. But I do sort of wonder how you pick one winner from the millions of paternal candidates. It’s not like you can decide it by some objective method, such as closest to the pin or most consecutive free throws made.

The criteria mentioned by the council include, “someone who exhibits the qualities of a great dad.” I’m sure I speak for millions of other fathers when I say, “I have no idea what that means.”

What are the qualities of a great dad? That he took the kids to church every Sunday? That he showed up for all their events? That he told them three times a day that he loved them?

Of course, the definition of a great dad is considerably different today than it once was. A few generations ago, just about any man who put a roof over his kids’ heads and made sure they had enough to eat was regarded as a pretty good dad. Today’s fathers are expected to be nurturing, sensitive and involved.

In retrospect, I guess I fell somewhere in-between as a father. I put roofs over the heads and food on the table, but I probably could have been a tad more nurturing and several tads more sensitive. I showed up for all their events, though. Except for one time when I missed a son’s wrestling meet, probably due to it conflicting with my open-heart surgery, or something. The kid never let me forget it.

Maybe the only ones truly qualified to rate a father’s performance are the kids upon whom he performed it.

Last year, for instance, I received an honor from Wright State University and all my kids showed up for the ceremony, traveling from as far away as Virginia, North Carolina and Oregon. I’d like to think that says something about the job I did as a father. On the other hand, maybe the fact that they had moved away to Virginia, North Carolina and Oregon said something about the job I did.

So perhaps the only thing father of the year Chris Christie and I have in common is that neither of us knew about those lane closings.


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