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Hunter or nurturer? Some lessons for Father's Day

June 18, 2010 |  9:15 am


Dads are supposed to demonstrate strength and power; moms are supposed to provide nurturing and tenderness. Isn't that how it goes?

That, at any rate, has been one traditional attitude.

But the recent crop of books on fatherhood -- just in time for this weekend -- refuses to fall into that category. Each of these books argues, in its own way, that dads should be able to fit into many roles, not just the hunter-guardian one. That includes being a teacher, nurturer and nerd, and, what’s more, it’s OK for them to put the warrior mask aside and be gentle, wise … even vulnerable.

Vulnerability -- Bruce Feiler certainly has felt that. The author of several books that vividly engage religion (including "Walking the Bible" and "Abraham"), Feiler was far too young to be staring into the void after a diagnosis, in 2008, of a cancerous tumor in his left femur. What would his twin daughters' lives be like without him? Who would serve as a father for them? In "The Council of Dads" (William Morrow), he decided that this future situation -- should medical treatment be unsuccessful -- wouldn't go to one person but to a group -- the council of the title.

"Six men. All very busy and burdened with their own challenges," he explains, "but together, collectively, they might help father my potentially fatherless daughters."

Who those men are, and the lessons that Feiler wants them to impart, form the content of this poignant memoir.

Lessons, too, are the essence of "What I Would Tell Her" edited by Andrea N. Richesin (Harlequin), a collection of essays by men to their daughters. While Rand Richards Cooper describes what it's like to be 51 and raising a 3-year-old ("Late-Onset Fatherhood"), David Teague recounts the often amusing experiences of sleeplessness when there's a newborn in the house ("Miles to Go Before I Sleep"). And then there's Brendan Halpin's "The Goalkeeper," which describes the challenges of finding acceptance with his stepdaughter Kylie, an avid soccer player.

"I'm not going to say I found some magical way to get Kylie to open up to me, that I eventually cracked her code," explains Halpin. "All I did was show up. Well, that and cheer."

Similar lessons can be found in "Fathers & Daughters & Sports" (Ballantine/ESPN), Brad Meltzer's "Heroes for My Son" (HarperStudio) and legendary Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee's book, co-written with his son Quinn (and featuring some observations by Sally Quinn), "A Life's Work: Fathers and Sons" (Simon & Schuster).

On the other hand, some dads may want to connect in another way -- by joining their kids in a project like building a cyborg jack-o-lantern and a binary calendar or playing a game of never-ending demolition derby. These, and so many other, activities are part of a book that is true to its title at its very core: "Geek Dad: Awesomely Geeky Projects and Activities for Dads and Kids to Share" by Ken Denmead (Gotham Books).

It doesn't matter if that robot pumpkin doesn't work or whatever: The point is somewhere else. Kids don't want a demonstration of powerful manliness from their dads: they want something else entirely. Their time.

"You're a geek. You're also a dad," writes Wired editor Chris Anderson in the book's foreword. "Geeks want to do cool projects, ideally involving science, technology, and anything that comes from Japan. Dads, meanwhile, want to spend time with their kids…Most of the time, these two forces are in opposition. But they don't have to be!"

-- Nick Owchar

Photo: Two-year-old Gregory McArthur Jr. of Atlanta and his father wait at the Spirit Airlines departures area at Florida's Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood airport earlier this week. Credit: Lynne Sladky / Associated Press