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With the upcoming Fatherhood Summit -- sponsored by the Marriage Resource Center of Carroll County and coming up Oct. 2 (call 410-386-9003 for details) -- a friend of mine asked me if I would take a break from my usual suspender stretching commentaries about politics and economics to talk about fatherhood.

I have one son. He has a high school diploma and a paying job.

By the standards of my trailer park upbringing, I should be up for some kind of parenting award.

Back in the day, my father was less concerned about me making a mark then about him leaving one. He whipped me so much he ended up with carpal spanking syndrome. (A slight exaggeration, Dad).

I know there's some faint-hearted person clucking right now, "Well, that explains Shoemaker. He's conservative because he was beaten as a child."

Actually, no. I'm conservative because it makes sense. I'm not in prison or living on welfare because my father knew that to smooth a block of rough stone; you need to swing a hammer.

As a boy, I was afraid of my father's wrath. He was like a great white shark with a cigar and a southern accent. Some days he'd just swim by. Other days, he would notice that I was flapping around like a wounded seal getting in some kind of trouble or another.

What I could not understand then, but know now, is that my respect-bordering-on-terror helped keep me on the straight-and-narrow path.

My father wasn't interested in being my buddy. He was interested in me growing into a man ... even if he had to kill me to do it.

I have been fortunate. My son is more like my wife than me. He's good natured, easy going, and well-behaved.

On any given day, his behavior is probably more mature than mine.

Heaven knows, I embarrass him on a regular basis. There haven't been many moments where I've even had to raise my voice, but on some fundamental level we have an understanding. I'm his father first.

I've tried to do a bit better than my father, who tried to do a bit better than his.

I also understand that times have changed. In my neighborhood, we thought Moonpies and RC Cola were a balanced and nutritious snack. A kid could sit on his dad's lap and "help steer" while the old man lit up another Camel or stogie.

While we learned some good things, we've forgotten some as well.

We have too many men willing to create a child and then walk away. We have too many fatherless adolescent boys running around like packs of hyenas, showing no respect for adults, women or themselves.

We have too many fathers who are reluctant to act like men.

And if that sounds sexist, well, it probably is ... but it's still true.

Raising children, good children, is an act of will. My dad taught me that a father's commitment to raise a good man has to be stronger than a son's commitment to be an idiot.

Like many of the best things in life, it isn't always easy and it isn't always pleasant. Being a good father, though, is always worth it.

If you don't believe me, ask my dad.

Haven N. Shoemaker Jr.

Hampstead

The author is the mayor of Hampstead.


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