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The Complicated Job of Being a Father

By Ruben Navarrette

The late country music star Conway Twitty wrote this great song about fathers and sons. In "That's My Job," Twitty says he looked to his father as a protector when he was very young. But:

Later we barely got along

This teenage boy and he

Most of the fights it seems

Were over different dreams

We each held for me.

Every time I hear this song, I wonder: Is there any more complicated relationship than the one between a father and his son?

I'm about to learn how complicated. The latest addition to our family is a baby boy. And I already know that one of the challenges in raising him will be avoiding the trap that has ensnared most of the men in my family. My brother and cousins - like me - tended to clash with their dads, even though they loved them. A generation ago, my father and uncles collided with my grandfather. As the song says, much of the conflict tended to be over competing egos and differences in opinion about how we all should live our lives.

I'd like to break from that family tradition with my own son, Santiago. Along the way, I don't suppose I'll be seeking parenting advice from Rudy Giuliani. The all-but-announced Republican presidential candidate has lately been dealing with questions about the strained relationship with his son, Andrew, a 21-year-old Duke University student who told ABC News that he has "problems" with his father - much of them apparently tied to his parents' divorce. He insists that he got his values from his mother, Donna Hanover. Andrew did say, however, that the fact that his dad wouldn't win any Father of the Year awards "doesn't mean he won't make a great president."

Giuliani responded by acknowledging the challenges that come with "blended families" and asking for privacy so that these issues can be worked out within the family.

Rudy is right. The media ought to back off this story. The relationship between Giuliani and his son is a private matter, and it tells voters nothing about what sort of president the former New York mayor would make. In fact, I suspect the main reason the media are making a big deal out of the discord between Giuliani and his son is that Giuliani is a Republican. It may be that some see a dash of hypocrisy - that these things happen to conservatives despite the fact the GOP likes to market itself as the party of "family values."

Yet Giuliani hasn't played the family values card with voters. Nor is he your typical Republican candidate for president. As someone who is on his third marriage and supports reproductive freedom and gay rights, Giuliani already has strayed from the party line on some of the social issues and has drawn criticism from religious leaders. Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said recently that a Giuliani presidential candidacy would be "an awfully hard sell" to evangelicals.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the aisle, we have Barack Obama, who reminds us that the relationship between father and son can be even more complicated when the father isn't around. Abandoned by his biological father after his parents' divorce, Obama has said that - just like a lot of other men - he has tried to live up to his father's expectations without repeating his father's mistakes. Hence you have the overachiever who went on to become the first black editor of the Harvard Law Review but who still makes it a priority to take his daughters to school and read them bedtime stories.

I intend to do the same with my son and his older sister, but - where the boy is concerned - I still worry about the timeless drama that is about to play out between him and me. Here's the plan: I'll push him to excel, and I'll demand that he give his very best efforts to every task. I'll teach him what it means to honor his responsibilities. I'll teach him to treat everyone with respect and to never look down on anyone. When there is conflict - as there will be - I'll treat him with respect. When the time comes to choose a path in life, I'll try to let him make his own decisions and mistakes, as long he doesn't harm himself or others. And if he falls, I'll try to catch him.

I have to. That's my job.

(c) 2007, The San Diego Union-Tribune

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