I've been on a biography kick lately -- laughing at "Bossypants" by Tina Fey, but cringing at "Steve Jobs" by Walter Isaacson.
Fey and Jobs didn't have much in common -- the former is a comedy writer and creator of "30 Rock" and the latter was the genius behind Apple computers (and a man with questionable social skills). However, I do feel that their collective creativity has made my life better in some way.
I was intrigued to find a common theme in their childhoods. Fey explained in "That's Don Fey," a chapter that's a wickedly funny (and slightly profanity-laced) tribute to her father, that a "key element" in raising an "achievement-oriented, obedient, drug-free" child is "Strong Father Figure/ Fear Thereof." She describes the influence of her father's protection and encouragement in the day-to-day events of her childhood -- such as watching baseball games and doing Saturday errands. As a result, she concludes, "I have high expectations for the men in my life because I have a strong father figure."
Isaacson explained that the man we can thank for Apple computers and various other iDevices (pods, pads, phones and tunes) learned from working with his father, Paul Jobs, a "salt-of-the-earth guy who was a great mechanic" and who spent hours teaching Steve about building things that both looked good and functioned perfectly. Isaacson recounts that while building a fence together, Paul told Steve that the back of the fence had to look good because "even though nobody will see it, you will know, and that will show that you're dedicated to making something perfect." Co-workers at Apple would later describe that Steve Jobs always was visibly pleased when Paul visited. Steve would give him a tour, showing that the same principles he was taught as a child were being applied to Apple's technology.
Fey's ability to take charge of a team and demand great comedy and Job's attention to perfection in the details are natural talents that were nurtured by time spent with their fathers. Neither book talked about glamorous vacations or profound conversations; instead, it was the mornings spent cleaning the house and afternoons spent tinkering in the garage that were defining moments.
The qualities seen in the fathers of Fey and Jobs also are seen in the father of Jesus. When reading about the life of Christ in the Gospels, St. Joseph is silent, always obeying the call of God to serve his wife and child. After Jesus is found by Mary and Joseph in the temple, the Gospel of Luke simply states, "And he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them" (Luke 2:51). Joseph has no recorded lines in Scripture, yet when Christ began his public ministry, he was known as "the carpenter's son." The first thing people recognized was the influence of Joseph in the life of Jesus.
Pope John Paul II explained that "through God's mysterious design, it was in that family that the Son of God spent long years of a hidden life. It is therefore the prototype and example for all Christian families." In a world where experts are quick to offer lots of advice and initiatives on fatherhood, the example of Joseph's presence in the life of Christ is a simple first step. It's in the times spent together just doing chores or chatting in the car -- the "hidden life" -- that parents can influence their children in ways they might never fully know.
As we celebrate fathers this weekend, be thankful for those who have influenced the hidden moments -- those who introduced protection, confidence and love -- by their presence.
Fathers and father figures who have the courage to be present in these moments, your influence might not always be acknowledged, but it is appreciated and long-lasting.
Columnist Alison Griswold is the director of youth ministry at St. Francis By the Sea Catholic Church. Follow her at twitter.com/alisongriz. Read her blog at www.teamcatholic.blogspot.com.