Harry R. Jackson, Jr.

Last week the nation was shocked by the sudden death of Tim Russert. He left an indelible mark on journalism and the American culture. So deep are the feelings of respect for this man that federal lawmakers from New York want to a name a western New York highway after him; the process will begin this week.

Many journalists have noted with interest that the occurrence of Russert’s death just before Father’s day seems strangely appropriate given his best selling books about his relationship with his father, Big Russ. After reading Russert’s account of how he decided to write his follow-up book to Big Russ and Me, I am convinced that he had a special understanding of the “builder” generation and their children. The Wisdom of Our Fathers: Lessons and Letters from Daughters and Sons will no doubt become a classic work on fatherhood and family. It may very well be that Russert’s biggest legacy will not come from Meet the Press but from his writings on fatherhood.

Week after week, no one discussed the major political issues of our day with more authority and clarity than Russert. He was reputed to be a man that could ask the tough question and challenge the positions of the nation’s brightest newsmakers, with a spirit of civility and grace. Yet his perspective on family life and his personal values may be his greatest gift to our nation and our culture. America is at a crossroads - we face a crisis of identity. The answer to our crisis may be as simple as remembering the legacy of our fathers and walking in the principles that made them great people.

Russert’s death has reminded me of the importance of Father’s Day and the significant father figures who have transformed my life. I am not the only one. Each of Tim Russert’s two books has sold like hot cakes this weekend. They are ranked in the top two sales positions at Barnes and Noble. What a feat! People all over the country are taking a fresh interest in the most benign of the family holidays. I often joke with my church congregants that you can never find a seat at a restaurant on Mother’s Day but fathers are gypped. In the words of Rodney Dangerfield, “We don’t get no respect!”

Against this backdrop of the lack of celebration of fatherhood in our culture, let’s take a little deeper look at the history of Father’s Day. I was only recently made aware of the fact that it was Lyndon Johnson that signed a presidential proclamation in 1966 that set the 3rd Sunday in June as Father’s Day.

Harry R. Jackson, Jr.

Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.