Father figures important to future of families

When I got home that night, despite the 80-degree temperature, I turned on the lights of the little Christmas tree that’s still up in June. Its glow was needed to warm our hearts following the news that our family’s beloved friend, Wayne Almond, had died.

For someone small in stature, Wayne left a large hole in many hearts through his passing. At 101, he remained very young at heart. If you didn’t know him, you wouldn’t have guessed his age. Wayne was in remarkably good physical and mental shape. Sure, his hearing and vision were diminishing, but cut him some slack. What can you expect when you’ve driven 25% past your human lifetime warranty?!

I hated breaking the news to my kids. Wayne died three weeks to the day their father was killed in a car accident. The last thing they needed was hearing another foundational, father-figure in their lives was gone. But there was no avoiding that unfortunate reality. We were all instantly sad and grieved collectively.

It led to a discussion about Wayne: How long had we known him? As long as any of us could remember. He had grown up north of here and knew my mother’s family that lived in those parts. After he moved to this area, he also became friends with my dad’s side of the family. I always thought it was great to have a friend his age who had known both of my parents when they were kids.

Wayne had been 18 when my folks were born. He delivered mail and picked up livestock from our farm (not using the same vehicle). After work hours and following retirement, Wayne and his wife, Alice, socialized with members of my extended family. They even took a memorable RV trip to Alaska with three Smith family couples. Perhaps that’s why Wayne felt so much like family.

We loved Wayne for his cheerful disposition, good humor, quiet courage and devotion to family, friends and community. He generously gave the benefit of the doubt and refused to assume the worst about anything or anyone. He was the consummate encourager through some of the most difficult times of our lives. He never gave up on us and would offer us our pick from a basket of mini-Hershey’s bars as his parting gift when we visited. Talk about refreshing!

After Alice died and he could no longer live safely at home alone, Wayne went to live at Masonville. Within that assisted living setting, he continued his helpful role with the other residents. He’d help people find their rooms, search for their lost items and give pep talks before their doctor visits. But mostly he listened. He would go to the dining room early and make sure the table and the food was ready for his friends. You simply couldn’t take the good guy out of Wayne, no matter what the setting!

As my kids and I approach Father’s Day fatherless, we thank God for how lucky we were to have other supportive men in our lives in addition to our own fathers. Instead of feeling cheated by death, we appreciate the life our fathers and father figures breathed into us. Wayne helped keep me and the kids on a positive path. He was never too busy to talk with us.

Never underestimate the father effect. According to Pew Research Center information from The Fatherhood Project of the Department of Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital, “A lack of involvement of fathers is associated with negative emotional, social, academic and behavioral outcomes for children. These outcomes result in high costs to society, including higher rates of crime, poverty, marital conflict and substance abuse.”

Men are not just dads, but crucial frontline defenses against all kinds of poor decision-making, acting out and social problems. As the Pew researchers summarize, “The feeling of closeness to a father is critically linked to a child’s future success in school, employment and relationships.”

If you’re lacking in the fathering department, spend time with someone who can serve as an honorary dad and supply a healthy, life-affirming male perspective. Or be that person to someone. Everyone deserves a father-like difference like the one Wayne made in our lives.

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