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Secret sauce of dads: Imparting a belief in oneself

Harry Hawkins, at the college graduation of his granddaughter, Lisa Hawkins.


Fathers Day is more than breakfast in bed. It is a day to reflect on the importance of Dads in raising healthy, well-adjusted children, in the same way as Mother’s Day.

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For generations now, the role of the father has been given rather short shrift. The politically correct stance has been that Dad is optional, a nice-to-have, while Mom is central. Thankfully, that misconception is changing.

Childhood development research over the past decade or so has finally identified fathers as being just as important as mothers, in slightly different ways. To most of us outside of academia, that might draw an inspired “duh.” But for academics it marks an important shift.

Here are just a few data points: 48 percent of children in fatherless homes live under the poverty line, while only 12 percent raised in married households do. Children with involved fathers are 43 percent more likely to get A’s in school. They have higher IQs and start school with a greater readiness to learn.

Children with fathers in the house are far less likely to flunk a grade, get involved in alcohol or drugs, or have behavior problems at school. They have measurably better emotional health. Girls have higher self-esteem. The proof of the importance of Dads is overwhelming.

A Personal Testament

Scott Hawkins

Enough with the socioeconomic data. Let’s talk about real people.

When the Good Lord was assigning Dads, I won the lottery. I ended up with one of the most committed, stable, present, and involved Dads you will ever see. I was (and am) lucky.

His name is Harry Hawkins. And I’m very happy to say, he is still with us, as is Mom, Charlotte. They will celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary next year.

The oldest of three siblings, I was born to this young, struggling college couple in Billings, Mont. When I say “struggling”, I only mean financially. In the ways that really matter, we were quite rich. My memories of those early years are warm.

At pre-school age, we moved out to Western Washington, to the Olympia area. When I think of those pre-school years, I think of both parents taking turns sitting on the sofa, reading to me. Every single day, in fact. Sometimes twice a day. Stop That Ball! was my favorite. Thanks to their dedication, reading and writing came easily when I started grade school.

In later years, Dad taught by example. On Saturday mornings he would pitch in and help Mom with the weekly house cleaning – running the vacuum, sweeping, mopping, anything Mom might ask. After dinner, he would hop up and help with dishes, getting us kids involved too.

On weekend afternoons, with housework done, he would go outside to work on projects. Yard work, or cutting up fallen trees and branches, or maybe building a walkway. Always something. He is extremely capable with his hands, and because of our good relationship I always wanted to help out. I know I wasn’t always very helpful, but Dad was happy to have the company. He taught me to run a chain saw, sharpen the blade, split wood, stack it properly. And much more.

In those days, we serviced and repaired our own cars. That’s how it was – there wasn’t money to “pay the nice man,” so most men of that era learned at least some auto mechanics. Dad taught me that, too, quietly and without fanfare. Thanks to him, by the age of 12, I could tear down a lawn mower engine, troubleshoot it, and have it running again in about an hour.

As a school principal, he started work early and got home early in the evening. Like clockwork. Weather permitting, when Dad pulled into the driveway and stepped out of his truck, it was time to play basketball, play catch, or throw the football. I will never forget my late brother sitting outside on the front lawn, with baseball mitts and a ball lying in front of him on the grass, just waiting for Dad to get home and play.

When I was 14, the family built a new, larger house on acreage in the woods. We built it ourselves, hiring out only the most specialized work. Dad showed me how to pull wire and install electrical outlets, hang doors and do finish work, paint, and the itchy work of putting up insulation.

Thanks to Dad’s mentoring, I was able to work as a carpenter and a hardwood floor guy in the summers and on holiday breaks while going to college, at decent wages, which helped me pay college expenses, while my parents also dug deep to cover tuition. In fact, carpentry is how I got my start in Alaska — with a hammer and saw.

For all of that, his greatest gift was and is his belief in me. He told me often that I could accomplish just about anything I set my mind to, and he meant it. If my school grades disappointed, his response was, “you can do a lot better than this, Scott.” His words always had such impact on us kids. As it turns out, I could do better. And did.

That sense of belief in self is the powerful gift of great dads. It is the “secret sauce” of child rearing. You show me a woman who had a loving, supportive father figure who expressed belief in her, and I will show you a woman who is self-confident, poised, resourceful and accomplished. A woman who can do just about anything she sets her mind to. Who likes and trusts men, and knows a good one when she sees him.

Father Figures Take Many Forms

Yes, I know, many folks did not have the benefit of a Norman Rockwell childhood. It is becoming increasingly unusual, although it does still exist. I just wish that it wasn’t trending that way.

But many of those who did not have exactly what I had found other high-impact father figures to fill that role. Here are just a couple of examples:

A good friend of mine never knew his Dad until meeting him briefly after he finished college. His Mother did not remarry, so there was no father at home. However, he had an older brother — a good one who played catch, took him hunting, and was a role model to look up to. He also had a highly attentive mom and grandmother at home. And he became very active in the church, where he came to know his ultimate role model.

Today, this friend is the father of two beautiful girls; girls who are now in the midst of accomplishing everything they set their minds to. They are marvels of brains, personality and achievement. This friend is a high-impact father who has the “secret sauce.” He also is a husband of 25 years. And I exaggerate not one bit when I say he is a pillar of the community. That he had an older brother who played that mentoring role rather than a father in no way slowed him down.

I have another good friend whose father who was prone to running off on adventures for years at a time, leaving the family behind to fend. In her case, the father role was filled by an attentive and loving grandfather, who instilled a deep belief in herself. Today, she is a highly accomplished professional with a stable marriage and a well-balanced child. She is a marvel of creativity and effectiveness.

So the impact of a father figure, combined with the benefit of a loving family, can be found in many different ways, in many different circumstances. The lack of a traditional family structure need not be a barrier. It just takes one caring family member or friend to make all the difference in the world.

The wonderful thing about such a relationship is that it endures for a lifetime. Harry and Charlotte, now in their 80s, still fill much the same role for me as they did growing up. Dad is still my go-to guy, always a source of knowledgeable advice on pretty much any subject. He still gets enthusiastic about my various endeavors and offers encouraging words.

For those who have lost a good father (or mother), you will probably agree that they still speak to you every day, inside your head, whispering to you that you have the wherewithal to do anything you set your mind to.

To all the dads out there – you have an incredibly important job to do! And don’t let any pop psychology clap-trappery convince you otherwise. You need only to be there reliably, take an interest, and do your best.

To all the children out there, you may not yet appreciate the full importance of whoever is serving as your father figure. Believe me, someday you will.

Happy Fathers Day, and may you have many more.

Scott Hawkins in a business owner and economist who lives in Anchorage. His 23-year-old daughter is traveling in Europe and the Lower 48 this month, doing what she has set her mind to do.

Suzanne Downing
Suzanne Downing
Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.

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