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A Basket of Magazines

by Matthew Arnold Stern

This speech came was a runner-up at the Area G-3 International Speech Contest in spring, 1997. I also presented the speech at the Founder’s District Spring Conference.

When you see an issue of Playboy magazine, what comes to mind? (I know what comes to most guys’ minds.) To some, Playboy is hideous, immoral smut. But, for me, Playboy magazine is the only connection that I have with my father.

Tonight, I’m going to tell you about the relationship that I had — or more precisely, didn’t have — with my father. You will then understand why I consider fatherhood so important to me, and why I believe it should be important to all fathers.

When I was little and my parents were married, my dad didn’t spend a whole lot of time with my brother and me. He worked in real estate, and he spent a lot of time at his job and frequently worked weekends and evenings. I barely remember him being at home, and the only time he took us on a camping trip, he spent most of the time recovering from a bad batch of beef stew.

And when my parents divorced, I saw even less of him. My mother was so bitter about how her marriage ended, that she made sure my brother and I were “unavailable” whenever my dad wanted to visit us.

Still, I managed to see my dad every so often. And whenever I visited him, there was always a basket of magazines in his bathroom — Playboy magazines. As a curious teenager, of course, I picked them up and read them.

That basket of Playboys was in my dad’s bathroom when I visited him in June, 1986. That was a special trip for me because, for the first time, I was finally able to talk to him man-to-man. It also proved to be the last time I would visit him. Eleven weeks later, he had a heart attack and died.

Whenever I thought about my dad after that, I wondered why that basket of Playboys was always there in his bathroom. I came to realize that my dad put them there because he thought this would be the only opportunity he had to teach me the things he thought a father should teach his son. Isn’t this sad?

I realized that this was not the type of father I wanted to be. I didn’t want to be a bystander in my child’s life. So, when I became a father, I made a commitment to be the best father I can be — to be the father I wished mine was to me.

In the process, I’ve learned that children need three main things from us as parents.

  • First, to be spend time with them. Time is the most precious gift we can give our children. Children need the security of our presence. They need to know that they’re important to us, and they’re not just an afterthought.
  • Second, to teach them. We are the most important teachers our children will have. They get from us their sense of self, their ethics, and their values. And they mostly learn from our examples.
  • Third and most important, to love them. They need a love that is unconditional and unending. By loving them, they learn to love themselves. When they learn to love themselves, they learn to love others.

The tragedy of today’s society is that too many children and not getting this type of parenting, especially from their fathers. A mother’s love is essential to a child, and it can compensate for the lack of a father in a home. But, a child still needs a father’s love. This is especially true for boys. Boys need a male role model they can learn and get approval from. They need learn how to become a man.

And what happens when boys do not learn how to become men? The news is full of the tragic consequences:

  • At one extreme, you produce men who are cowards. Men who refuse to take responsibility for their actions.
  • At the other extreme, you produce men who are monsters. Men who practice violence, not only against others, but against themselves. This includes the use of alcohol and drugs.

For the most part, you produce men who are confused. Men who struggle their entire lives trying to figure out for themselves the skills their fathers should have taught them. And, when they lack good male role models, they turn to the media: to the cartoonish caricatures they see on TV or movies, or magazines like Playboy. These are no substitute for the guidance of a strong and caring father.

This is why it is so important for me to be a good father, and this is why it is so important that all fathers fulfill our roles. Our sons and daughters need a good example of what a man is supposed to be like.

So, if you have a son, teach him to be a gentleman. Teach him how to conduct himself with dignity, honor, and respect. If you have a daughter, like I do, teach her that men are good. Teach her that masculinity is not something to be feared or ridiculed, but a perfect complement to her femininity.

Fathers, I implore you, make yourselves meaningful presences in your children’s lives. Spend time with them. Teach them. Love them. This way, when you are gone, you will leave behind a more meaningful and valuable legacy than just a basket of magazines.