Jackie Gingrich Cushman

It is amazing what you can take for granted. I was reminded of this during a recent Caribbean vacation. The compound where we stayed was surrounded by a fence topped with three strands of barbed wire. I now appreciate the safety in our country. At night, the oscillating fan was positioned only inches from my side of the bed. I now appreciate my air conditioned home.

Today is Father’s Day and since my father has been with me all my life, even longer than I have lived with air conditioning (I can remember my sister and me sleeping on the floor of my parents’ bedroom when we finally got a window unit), I don’t know what it would be like to be fatherless. I realize that I have been taking my good fortune for granted.

According to a 1999 study at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, the simple fact of having had a father in my life has probably helped me learn better, boosted my self esteem and lowered my chance of being depressed. The study found this increase to be the same for boys and girls regardless of race and the impact holds true for “father figures” as well as fathers. It “clearly suggests that a father's presence and involvement benefits the child," says Dr. Howard Dubowitz, a study author and director of the school’s Child Protection Program.

The impact of a father is felt throughout a child’s life. During dinner last week, a friend mentioned his father, who is over 70. I could tell from the tone of his voice and the inflection of his speech that his father had had a lifelong, positive impact on him.

Fathers seem to be especially good at teaching children lessons regarding life, often serving as role models on how to act under adverse circumstances; providing love, support and a pattern to follow when moving from the nest into the world.

One of the greatest lessons a father can teach his children is that failure is OK, and persistence matters. It is important to learn that failure is inevitable and not necessarily bad. The proper response is to just get up, be cheerful and move ahead. I learned this from watching my dad. In 1974, my father lost his first race to serve as congressman for Georgia’s 6th district. Running in the South as a Republican during the Watergate era might have been akin to charging at windmills, but my recollection is that he declared before Watergate broke.

I am sure it was hard for him to lose (I know it was hard for me to watch him lose); hard to sit at the diner at two or three in the morning with our family and friends and know that we had lost a close race; even harder to get up later that same morning, go to the Ford factory as the shift was changing, shake workers’ hands and thank them for their votes. But that is what he did.

In 1976, Jimmy Carter ran for president. He won and carried with him an enormous Democratic turnout in Georgia. Dad lost again by just a few percentage points.

Dad had now been twice defeated, but instead of giving up, he and his wife (my mother) decided to take time off of work, borrow money and campaign. The third attempt was the charm. He finally won in 1978 and was on his way to Washington. His persistence paid off.

Persistence requires forging ahead, working hard, and not giving up when faced with obstacles. As Dad says, “Hard work makes up for almost everything.” The key is to listen and learn along the way, changing tactics to achieve the objective. Of course, if you don’t listen and learn, then persistence can morph into Einstein’s definition of insanity: “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

My father showed me that it is OK to fail. If one is willing to accept the occasional failure, one is more willing to embrace risk, moving ahead unencumbered by the fear of failure.

No one chooses their father, not all children have fathers in their lives and not all fathers are good. However, the same positive impact holds true for “father figures” as well as fathers. We should all strive to provide positive role models for those who, by chance and birth, do not have a father in their lives, or whose father is not the positive influence desired. My brother-in-law served as a “big brother” in south Atlanta 20 years ago. This year he and my sister attended his “little brother’s” wedding. Clearly, my brother-in-law had a positive impact.

To the 66 million fathers in the United States for the unending job of being a father, you have an incredibly important job. Thank you.

To those who are father figures and positive role models to children, your work is just as important.

To my husband, an incredible father to our two children, they learn from you every day. Just last week, they requested smooth jazz, a sure sign of your positive influence.

To my father, who is also celebrating his birthday today, happy Father’s Day, I could not have picked a better father if I had tried, I love you.


Jackie Gingrich Cushman

Jackie Gingrich Cushman is a speaker, syndicated columnist, socialpreneur, and author of "The Essential American: 25 Documents and Speeches Every American Should Own," and co-author of “The 5 Principles for a Successful Life: From Our Family to Yours”.