Snow: Father’s Day thoughts on a four-letter word

June 16, 2012 

I would never have begun a Father’s Day column writing about John Edwards, were it not for his emotional expression of love for 4-year-old Quinn Hunter, the love child whose paternity he so vehemently denied during his storied run for the presidency.

“My precious Quinn, whom I love more than any of you could ever imagine, and I am so close to and am so, so grateful for ...,” he said, biting his lips to stem the tears as he spoke to the crowd outside the Greensboro courthouse after he was acquitted of one count of breaking campaign finance laws and a mistrial was declared on five other counts against him.

“I am grateful for all my children,” he then added, as if in afterthought.

Pundits have since speculated why he chose that moment to publicly declare his love for the child.

One observer interpreted the remark as an apology to Quinn’s mother, Rielle Hunter, and acceptance of both, despite the personal hell Edwards has endured in recent months.

I see the comment as a normal declaration of affection by a father for his child, a declaration missing from my own childhood as well as from generations of others before “love” became routinely expressed in parent-child relationships.

I have no doubt John Edwards meant it when he said, “I love all my children.”

My father, who was 64 when I was born, never got around to telling me he loved me, although I’m sure he cared deeply for all of his large brood.

A gentle man, he was never unkind to us. When we were to be punished, we hoped the punisher would be “Pa.” When he applied the peach tree switch to our backsides, a couple of blood-curdling wails of pseudo-pain would prompt him to immediately cease and desist.

I don’t know why the simple expression “I love you” was missing from the vocabulary of my generation.

Perhaps parents feared that saying those three words would put them in a position of weakness that children might use to their advantage. I don’t know why. That was just the way it was.

I once discussed this with my former minister, the late Dr. Albert Edwards, who said this was also true in his native Scotland. Even when a young man proposed, he said, the word love wasn’t mentioned.

“The suitor instead would say to the colleen of his choice, ‘How would you like to be buried with my people?’” Dr. Edwards said.

I’m happy that things have changed for the better. The expression, “I love you” has come into its own, between fathers and sons, even among relatives and friends.

Also, today’s dads are good about spending time with their children. I especially coveted and missed the father-son relationship and bonded to some extent with an older brother-in-law, who paid attention to me. He and I would explore the hilly woodlands, as he taught me tidbits about nature, helped me catch crawdads, pointed out squirrel nests in the trees and led me to an otter’s dam.

It is said that Brooks Adams, son of Charles Francis Adams Sr., who served as ambassador to Great Britain in the 1800s, once wrote in his diary, “Went fishing with my father – the most glorious day of my life.”

On the same day, his father noted in his diary, “Went fishing with my son, a day wasted.”

It’s true that spending time with children can sometimes be tiresome, boring and demanding.

Yet reading still another story at bedtime, attending Little League games, helping with homework, driving to swim practice, etc., is time well spent. Next to love, time is the most precious gift a father can give a child.

Even the Good Book says, “And now, these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

Snow: 919-836-5636 or asnow@newsobserver.com

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