That’s My Job

My column for the West Bend Daily News is online. Here it is:

Fatherhood got a boost last week from the realm of politics as two powerful politicians decided to lead by example by being strong fathers. In an age when fathers are often absent and frequently dismissed by our culture, it was a positive development.

Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Janesville, will almost certainly be elected speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives this week, but it was not without conditions. Ryan did not want to be the speaker. He was quite happy, as he frequently reminded everyone who would listen, as the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee in the House. And why wouldn’t he be happy? Being the chairman of arguably the most powerful committee in the House and having his hands directly on the levers of government policies was the dream job for a congressman who has spent his career making his name as a policy nerd.

But the Republicans in the House were having difficulty deciding on a leader. The conservative advocates, who are on a mission to accomplish things and are frustrated with what they believe to have been weak and uninspired leadership from Speaker John Boehner, are pushing for a conservative crusader as the new speaker. But they represent a hardened minority of the caucus who can scuttle any candidate for speaker, but do not have the votes to win the day. The moderate and liberal Republicans want a more moderate Speaker who will compromise for the small victories instead of dying on the hills of greatness.

Into this chasm steps Ryan. He is a fiscal and social conservative with a reputation for pragmatism. He is also young and articulates the Republican message well in both friendly and hostile environments. He quickly became the one hope for both conservatives and moderates to bridge the factions and represent the party and lead the House.

But Ryan has some conditions. As is becoming more common with men who are in high demand in their professions, Ryan said he would only take the job if the responsibilities would be adapted to accommodate his responsibilities as a father. Perhaps because Ryan lost his own father at a young age, he is making his priorities clear: family first, job second.

On the other side of the political spectrum and at the end of a lengthy career, another politician is sending the same message — as he has throughout his career. Vice President Joe Biden has always been a good father and family man. As a senator, “Amtrak Joe” was known for regularly taking the train to and from home from Washington to be a father to his kids. While too many other politicians all but abandon their families as they spend all of their time in Washington furthering their careers, Biden spent hour after hour, year after year, decade after decade riding the train home to be with his family.

Up until last week, Biden was considering another run for president. His son, Beau, died last year of brain cancer and his Biden said that Beau wanted him to run. In a weak Democratic field and as the sitting vice president, Biden stood perhaps his best chance of winning the nomination of his lifetime. But in the end, Biden decided not to run. Among the reasons Biden gave for his decision was that he wanted to be home with his family — especially his grandkids, who will now grow up without their father.

Our culture too often disdains the importance of fathers. In our movies and television shows, fathers are far more often portrayed as stupid, abusive or lazy instead of loving, hardworking and clever. Fatherhood is dismissed as irrelevant or even harmful. But any kid who has grown up without their father never loses the longing for the cornerstone of their foundation that was never set.

Two men from different political persuasions in different phases of their careers reminded Americans that being a father is more important than any job — even jobs such as president or speaker. The Biden and Ryan kids are lucky to have the dads they have.