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Daddy-on-the-Spot

Modern fathering is new to me. But I like what I see

As it’s time once more to talk about fathers, let me ask you a question.
    Did you grow up in a patriarchy? Or a matriarchy?
    Matriarchy for me. Like elephant calves, I grew up surrounded by women. From the center out: my dominant, buzz-saw mother, Elsa; my doting paternal grandmother, Florence Martin; my godmothers Virginia Dalton and Kay King; the waitresses at our family restaurant and the cook, Lovie.
    Because we lived in or near our restaurant — the Stymie Club in St Louis — my father, Gene Martin, was always around, taking care of business and pleasure.
    When I was old enough to tag along, he introduced me to the world as he knew it: clubbing; St Louis Cardinals baseball; horseracing; motor boating on the Mississippi River; Chicago, his native city; and tales tall and true. Dad taught me how to have a good time, what to expect from a good date and the satisfaction of a well-told story. Not a bad role model, as I’ve enjoyed a husband with those same qualities for 43 years.
    Most schoolmates had seemingly more traditional families, with father who went to work and came home, so I imagined my matriarchal upbringing was odd. Now I’m not so sure. In the 1950s, when I grew up, raising kids was pretty much women’s work. How much, I wonder, did fathers of that era invest in their children? I’d like to hear your stories.
    When my sons came along, I raised them in a matriarchy. From the center out: me; their grandmother, Elsa; their godmother, Linda; and my amoebic circle of girlfriends, especially Janice, Judy and Sue.
    What they have taken from their father, who often lived many states away, is their story. As is their inheritance from Bill, their steadfast buddy and stepfather.
    Alex and Nat were well along before I saw the father who opened my eyes to the potential of the calling.
    Bill Freivogel, a colleague of Bill’s at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau, not only split one full-time journalism job and raising four kids with his wife, Margie. Bill could also change a wet diaper while holding the kid on his hip.
    That, I thought, is a serious father.
    Other D.C. cohorts of Bill showed me more tricks of the trade of fathering. Jon Sawyer, founding director of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, put himself into raising his and Kem’s three girls and now a half-dozen grandchildren. Tim Poor, also from the Post-Dispatch, ran his miles with baby Elizabeth in a stroller. Donald Foley kept up with wife Louise Hilsen in raising their comingled family of five, and now three grandkids, while both kept moving ahead in high-level policy jobs.
    Around my neighborhood, Scott Smith, Jack Brumbaugh, Steve Smith, Mike Brewer showed the same dedication and delight in fathering. “Raising Eric was such a rich part of my life,” Scott Smith told me the other day, just before little Alex Groves, son of Wes, one of a new generation of dedicated fathers, raced into Scott’s arms. Steve Smith’s son John is our neighborhood’s other daddy-on-the spot with daughter Sienna.
    In my own family, I see fatherhood in action as Alex and Nat join their wives in raising Jack, Elsa and Ada, sharing work, joys and outrage.
    Of course daughters-in-law Lisa and Liz tell me theirs is still the lionesses’ share.
    And that’s a role I understand.

    While we’re on the subject, this week’s Chesapeake Curiosities reveals a famous — if little known — fact about Father’s Day. That we celebrate it at all is due to the tenacious efforts of a daddy’s girl named Sonora Smart Dodd. Read on to discover that story.
    For other role models, dads and mentors are all over our pages this week. Enjoy!

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher; editor@bayweekly.com