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Column: An ode to fathers

This column in dedicated in loving memory of Ken Nelson and Robert Hanscom, my father-in-law and my father. Two men who set a high bar for fatherhood. My father-in-law passed away on March 4. My own father passed away 21 years ago.

I wish you could have known these two men. They were very different in personality, but shared many wonderful qualities. They both loved well and were much loved. They have both left a legacy for their family that will live long in those who were privileged to call them Dad and Grandpa.

My father was a classic Yankee, keeping his emotions close and mostly to himself. We used to laugh at his Valentine cards to my mother, his wife of 46 years. He would get the big shiny card with mushy sentiments and then write “to Mary from Robert.” Ahh, such a romantic.

We were not a family that hugged and kissed ­— that was way too expressive. But there was never a doubt in my mind that my father loved me even though I never remember him saying “I love you.” It was the little things he did that communicated his love to me very clearly. He provided for my needs very well — clothing, food, housing, and education. He let me be with him — whether I stood on a stool in his carpentry shop and watched him work or rode with him down some back road to deliver papers for his pet project, the public library. He encouraged us to pursue our interests. My brother was encouraged in his prolific carpentry projects — the tree house, the go-cart, the scary jury-rigged window fan, the series of home-made sailboats that weighed more than most cars. My sister’s love of reading, music, languages … I so appreciated that he believed in me. He conveyed to each of us that we could do whatever we set out to do. He was so confident that we all believed it too. He died at the age of 75, six weeks before my youngest, his last grandchild was born. It is sad to me that my children didn’t get to know him except through my stories.

My husband’s father was with us for much longer, dying this month at the age of 90 years. He left behind his three sons, their wives and 10 grandchildren and many people who had been affected by his life. Ken knew how to make whoever he was talking to feel like they were at the center of his attention. Whether it was his youngest grandchild or his oldest grandchild (a span of 17 years), whether they were playing soccer or working on their master’s degree, he wanted to know how it was going. He didn’t just want “OK” for an answer. He wanted details. And he would remember those details next time they talked. They knew that Grandpa was keenly interested in them and the things they were interested in. Most of all, they knew Grandpa was concerned about who you were and who you were becoming — your character and your integrity. He often talked to his nine granddaughters about not bringing home a dud — as in an unworthy husband. When Grandpa had something to say about how you were living your life, he was listened to. They didn’t always agree, but they knew his concern stemmed from his love for them.

I am privileged to have loved and been loved by such men — both of them gentlemen in every respect of the word. They have shown us by their own example how to love, to parent, to leave a legacy that is strong and will last for many generations. As I think about that I realize that both these men had fathers who did the same for them. And now we must consider what is the legacy our generation will leave for the next? History does repeat itself — for the positive or for the negative.

Here is the challenge: to parent well not only for the sake of this generation but for the generations who follow. The River Center provides parenting support – for everyone. Contact us for more information. 924-6800 or mnelson@rivercenter.us.

Margaret Nelson is the executive director of The River Center in Peterborough.

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