Paternal wisdom

Published June 18, 2022, 9:45 PM

by Aaron Cabeza

In this imagined conversation among 20 writers about their fathers, may we realize what our own has taught us

A father acts on behalf of his children by working, providing, intervening, struggling, and suffering for them. In so doing, he really stands in their place. He is not an isolated individual, but incorporates the selves of several people in his own self.

—Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics


When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.

—Mark Twain


As my father always used to tell me, “You see, son, there’s always someone in the world worse off than you.” And I always used to think, “So?”

—Bill Bryson, The Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town America


A father has to be a provider, a teacher, a role model, but most importantly, a distant authority figure who can never be pleased. Otherwise, how will children ever understand the concept of God?

—Stephen Colbert

In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. “Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”

—F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby


Father said conflict develops the character.

—Zelda Fitzgerald, Save Me the Waltz


There’s no shame in fear, my father told me, what matters is how we face it.

—George R. R. Martin, Clash of Kings


You have been so careful of me that I never had a child’s heart. You have trained me so well that I never dreamed a child’s dream. You have dealt so wisely with me, Father, from my cradle to this hour, that I never had a child’s belief or a child’s fear.

—Charles Dickens, Hard Times


It is a wise father who knows his own child.

—William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice


He promised us that everything would be okay. I was a child, but I knew that everything would not be okay. That did not make my father a liar. It made him my father.

—Jonathan Safran Foer, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close


He was a father. That’s what a father does. Eases the burdens of those he loves. Saves the ones he loves from painful last images that might endure for a lifetime.

—George Saunders, Tenth of December


It was times like these when I thought my father, who hated guns and had never been to any wars, was the bravest man who ever lived.”

—Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird


Sherman made the terrible discovery that men make about their fathers sooner or later… that the man before him was not an aging father but a boy, a boy much like himself, a boy who grew up and had a child of his own and, as best he could, out of a sense of duty and, perhaps love, adopted a role called Being a Father so that his child would have something mythical and infinitely important: a Protector, who would keep a lid on all the chaotic and catastrophic possibilities of life.

Tom Wolfe, The Bonfire of the Vanities


The father is always a Republican toward his son, and his mother’s always a democrat.

—Robert Frost


All fathers are invisible in daytime; daytime is ruled by mothers and fathers come out at night. Darkness brings home fathers, with their real, unspeakable power. There is more to fathers than meets the eye.

—Margaret Atwood, Cat’s Eye


At 16, you still think you can escape from your father. You aren’t listening to his voice speaking through your mouth, you don’t see how your gestures already mirror his; you don’t see him in the way you hold your body, in the way you sign your name. You don’t hear his whisper in your blood.

—Salman Rushdie, East, West: Stories


Sometimes I think my papa is an accordion. When he looks at me and smiles and breathes, I hear the notes.

—Markus Zusak, The Book Thief


I believe that what we become depends on what our fathers teach us at odd moments, when they aren’t trying to teach us. We are formed by little scraps of wisdom.

—Umberto Eco, Foucault’s Pendulum


Parents rarely let go of their children, so children let go of them. They move on. They move away. The moments that used to define them—a mother’s approval, a father’s nod—are covered by moments of their own accomplishments. It is not until much later, as the skin sags and the heart weakens, that children understand; their stories, and all their accomplishments, sit atop the stories of their mothers and fathers, stones upon stones, beneath the waters of their lives”

—Mitch Albom, The Five People You Meet in Heaven


A man knows when he is growing old because he begins to look like his father.

—Gabriel Garcia Marquez