Although it seems a sad irony that the man known as the father of our nation had no offspring of his own, George Washington was anything but short of children in his life. In addition to the father-son relationship he enjoyed with several of his aides, particularly Lafayette, GW was a loving, often doting father figure for a bevy of stepchildren, grandchildren, great grandchildren, nieces, and nephews. Last time I visited Mt. Vernon, I was struck by the fact the art hanging in his and Martha’s bedroom were not homage to his accomplishments as a warrior, president, and international statesman, but simple and sweet portraits of their grandchildren.
Just as he provides us an inspiring and touching role model in public service and personal resiliency, GW embodies the essence of fatherhood. Whether biological or not, parenting a child requires steadfast devotion to his/her health and happiness; sincere and attentive interest in his/her life and dreams; a sense of humor, patience, and leading by encouragement, gentle coaxing, and example not edict; flexibility, always; listening, really listening; knowledge that boo-boos beget revelation and growth; and a joy in watching a new spirit bloom and stretch and reach fruition.
Did he stumble, occasionally? Of course. That too is parenting. As is picking oneself up, learning, trying again.
An example of GW’s fatherly love: When one of his granddaughters was feeling insecure about herself, her likeability, and her future because a younger sister was engaged to be married and she was not, GW noticed. Rather than chiding her for jealousy, or dismissing her worries as silly, or “joking” that she better catch up, or pointing out some character flaw that kept her from romance, GW wrote her a beautiful reminder that she was special and deserved a man who would love her for who she was. And that she should wait for it.
Here are a few snippets:
“Remember this—a sensible woman can never be happy with a fool….A beautiful and accomplished lady will turn the heads and set the circle in which she moves on fire. But once the torch bursts into a blaze with a particular gentleman, the lady must ask herself several important questions:
“Who exactly is this invader? Have I competent knowledge of him? Is he a man of good character, a man of sense? Or is he a gambler, a spendthrift, or a drunkard?
“Do my friends have no reasonable objection to him?
“If these questions are satisfactorily answered, there remains but one more to be asked. Are his affections engaged by me and me alone? If my passion is not reciprocated, the man is not worthy of me. A lady of character deserves a man who looks nowhere but at her.”
Happy Father’s Day to everyone who is blessed with children old or young, biological or adopted or befriended, to love and nurture.
For more about GW and his parenting role, see: https://www.mountvernon.org/library/digitalhistory/digital-encyclopedia/article/parenting/