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Essays on fatherhood

I was looking forward to trying to raise a saint

Finian at six weeks with the author - Image by Chad Weckler
Finian at six weeks with the author

I Have Purchased a Grey Cardigan Sweater

My wife and I fell in love over wine, bourbon, and cognac. We attended a college with a dry campus, and many evenings were spent sitting in my car under a highway overpass just off campus known to students as The Pit, a bottle between us and a candle on the dashboard. We developed the habit of each other, the ease of being together that bodes well for domestic bliss.

Feb. 13, 1997 | Read full article

Men Will Rise to the Level Women Demand of Them

I decided I couldn't stand my coach and I quit playing baseball. And that was it. As intensely as dad had supported me, as hard as he had worked with me, he did not try to keep me where I did not need to be. It was a lesson to me. I am not for hands-off parenting. But here was a place where letting go, while it would not affect my quality of soul, might still be difficult. 

March 20, 1997 | Read full article

Our One and Noble Function

I'm not saying women shouldn't work. I'm saying that parents ought to look to their children. That is the "one and noble function of the time." It's not a question of politics, it's a question of love. As the narrator aunt tells Dean in On the Road, "You can't go all over the country having babies like that. Those poor little things'll grow up helpless. You've got to offer them a chance to live."

April 17, 1997 | Read full article

Call No Man Blessed Until He Is in the Grave

People react the way they would if you told them you had landed a job or won an award. But pregnancy is not the result of an achievement of this sort. It is the result of sex, and though I believe sex with my wife is both an expression of love and an occasion of grace, the fact remains that most men and women can take part in the conception of a child. It requires no special virtue.

May 29, 1997 | Read full article

This Was Labor, Not an Aneurysm

Whether he feels the same about me is another matter. His first excursion with Dad was to the circumcision table, something we did so that he would look like his father, so he wouldn't get made fun of in the locker room, and because it is customary. All he knows is it hurt, and Dad brought him there. I also get to change him, a ritual that includes rubbing Vaseline on his wounded penis.

July 3, 1997 | Read full article

To Be a Chunker

In Evelyn Waugh's "Work Suspended," the narrator falls in love with a pregnant woman, despite the fact that she is "deprived of sex, as women are, by its own fulfillment." In contrast to this is John Updike's Couples. Before I married, I agreed with Waugh — sex with a pregnant woman seemed somehow of another order, almost weird. But when Deirdre got pregnant, three months into our marriage, I started tending toward Updike.

July 31, 1997 | Read full article

I Said I Was Looking Forward to Trying to Raise a Saint

I had a moment of clarity. A moment when words resume their original force and meaning. (Amazing that we can use words like God, the Devil, Heaven, Hell, Sin, Grace, the Incarnation, and all the rest of it with such casual tones, but we can, because they have been softened by use. What does "born again" signify anymore?) These words were, for a moment, clear. "Live no longer for ourselves, but for Him...."

Aug. 28, 1997 | Read full article

After Job, Wife, and Family Fall into Place

The Normal Heights house we are in the process of buying is not dull, but neither is it exotic. One-story Craftsman, wood exterior, three bedrooms, one and a half baths, a garage for an office, and a small yard. Cushy linoleum covers the large kitchen floor; the rest is forgiving, coverable hardwood. There is room for an herb garden. We have struck a balance between form and function. The baby is boss. "What is normal" remains to be seen.

Sept. 25, 1997 | Read full article

My Darling Droolbucket

Four months, and I still find myself believing that motherhood has descended on Deirdre with all the ease of an inherited crown. Solutions to the mystery of his sadness seemed infused in her; I must experiment. Contrasts between being and doing square off in my head — she simply holds him to her breast, and lo, by nature, comforting milk appears. I, on the other hand, must cavort, sing, and jostle to win Fin's grin.

Oct. 30, 1997 | Read full article

Fin Kisses

Fin knows our devotion to dinner, and he demands to be a part of it. Seated in a bouncy seat on the floor, he complains until he sits upon a lap, Out darts a hand into the Gorgonzola-onion-tomato sauce. Then, a pleading reach for a fork, placed just beyond his grasp. If we pick our food up to eat it, his eyes follow it to our mouths, full of the accusation that we have cheated him. 

Nov. 26, 1997 | Read full article

What Good Is Dad For?

When he came to the movie theater where I was seeing a movie I had been forbidden to see and led me away in front of everyone I was with. I was mortified. But by the end of high school, when classmates pitied me for my strict father, I was able to say, "At least I know he cares about me." ....Someone told me once, "A mother is mother by nature; but a father is a father by will."

Dec. 18, 1997 | Read full article

Free-Range Baby

He has made Mount Mama his Everest. When she is reclining, he ascends the swell of her hip. When she is sitting, he seeks handholds in the crook of her arm and on her shoulder and in the ropes of blond hair that dangle above him. The Fin Kiss he gives upon arrival at Mama's chin has become a Fin Clench: a hard, toothless chomp, hand clutching the hair on the back of her head.

Jan. 22, 1998 | Read full article

Behold the Imp

The main character of William Kennedy's novel Ironweed is Francis Phelan, a ruined wreck of a man whose slide from happy normality began when he accidentally dropped his 13-day-old son Gerald on the floor and killed him. The guilt was too much; he deserted his wife and children. I read the book long before I became a father, but I never forgot that part of it.

Feb. 19, 1998 | Read full article

Poopfeet

Fin the excreter has several incarnations. We have met poop boy. Now for snot boy. I don't remember when Fin got his first cold. I do remember Deirdre staring at him after he sneezed and exclaiming, "Twin towers!" My stare followed hers, and I beheld two pillars of bright-green snot, applied as if by pastry bag from Fin's nostrils to his chin. I know a walrus's tusks originate in its mouth, but walrus tusks are what came to mind.

March 26, 1998 | Read full article

Not Mom

Finian is a first-generation Californian. As things stand, he will grow up in California. The particular atmosphere of San Diego will be his first and deepest impression of How Things Are. He will not come from a tightly wound small town in the Northeast; he will come from a relaxed big city on the West Coast. What sensibilities, what mannerisms will he exhibit that seem foreign to me? What will he, the native, see that I do not see?

April 9, 1998 | Read full article

Eeyore Strikes Again

Fin's “uh-oh” was significant of place — a Northeastern anxiety, a concern that the reason it's always cloudy is that the sky is indeed falling, or is at least very loose and leaky and expensive to repair. Not for nothing does Deirdre call me Eeyore. Growing up, if the family was on a trip and I sense the slightest hesitation in Dad's hand on the wheel, I would lean forward from the back seat and ask, "Are we lost?"

May 21, 1998 | Read full article

Da Always Wins

When Fin started crawling we started calling him a little mobile will. So many of the things he wished for as a helpless infant were now within reach — power cords, books on lower shelves, trash cans and their treasures. Later, when he gained the strength to pull himself up on coffee tables and chair legs, a new realm was opened to him the elevated surface. The TV remote, the still-forbidden cordless phone, the spigot to the water cooler.

June 18, 1998 | Read full article

I Had to Inspect His Mouth for Roach Eggs

I married a woman who can't handle roaches. Deirdre is a splendid, practical person, unperturbed by the messiness of the physical world. But when, while looking under the couch for a lost sandal, she brought forth a roach — a dead roach — within several inches of her face, she made a sound I had never heard before. The result was a twisted, shuddering moan. Later she opined that roaches were a result of the Fall.

July 23, 1998 | Read full article

The Way It Is with Boys and Guns

He loves balls. Soon after he was born, his great-grandparents set him a set of squeaky balls — a football, a baseball, and a basketball. They became highly prized, especially in the tub. Since then, the balls have accumulated, almost by themselves; a hi-bouncer, a beach ball, a Whiffle ball, a wobbly blue inflatable purchased on a whim at Wal-Mart, a stuffed cloth ball, a plastic football autographed by Otis Taylor of the Kansas City Chiefs (#84).

August 27, 1998 | Read full article

Fin Abandoned

We left on a Thursday. That night, he slept with my mom. When he woke up in the wee hours, she brought him downstairs, gave him some milk, then carried him back upstairs and rubbed his back until he fell asleep. Near painless. The next day, Mom and Lisa heard a strange cry coming from the front hallway — not a pain cry, not a frustrated scream, but a wailing lamentation. Finian had found our wedding picture on the small table in the hall, taken it down, and was now sitting, bent over it, crying and saying, "Mommy. Da."

Sept. 24, 1998 | Read full article

Don’t Blink

I never saw him leave the office and head for the gap between the gate and the hedge. I never saw him leave the yard and head out onto the street. I never saw that van. What I did see was a young woman crossing over to the other side of the street, staring at Deirdre and me like she was heading for the nearest phone to call Child Protective Services.

Oct. 22, 1998 | Read full article

Baby’s Gladdened Heart

I want him to learn that alcohol is not properly glossed with the sheen of the forbidden and the taboo; that its place is not in orgiastic partying — gettin' loaded! blitzed! bombed! hammered! smashed! wasted!  — but firmly in civilized life. It completes a meal, stimulates conversation, and gladdens the heart of man, and perhaps if he grows up seeing it enjoyed properly — not as an end in itself or as a means of getting laid.

Nov. 19, 1998 | Read full article

Possessed by the Blue Glow

Watching TV is the great quasisocial activity. Unlike reading, it's something I can do with my wife — watching TV together is a shared experience, unlike both reading in the same room. Anyway, we can never both read, because someone's always got to keep track of Finian. We can watch TV and monitor the boy at the same time — it only demands half of our attention. And it's different from one of us reading to the other.

Feb. 11, 1999 | Read full article

The Catch

An entire shelf of stuffed animals sits neglected as his red-mesh ball bag swells — baseballs, street-hockey balls, four-square balls, balls with strings that attach to the wrist, Ping Pong balls, whiffle-golf balls and baseballs, foam balls — basketball, tennis, baseball, football — tiny magnetic balls. Soft balls are allowed indoors, hard balls stay outside. To occupy him while Deirdre makes dinner, I take turns with him throwing a spongy red one against the front door.

March 4, 1999 | Read full article

Dad’s Little Pessimist

Fin took the occasion to practice dinky little half-throws, throws that traveled about a foot in the air, then rolled the rest of the way toward their target. “C’mon now, Fin, gun it!” I would plead. Fin, whose powerful arm amazed my family when we gathered for Christmas, enjoyed this new style. It wasn’t until we were almost ready to go that he uncorked one, leading Jack’s dad to exclaim, “Wow, he’s got an arm on him!” 

April 29, 1999 | Read full article

A Different Kind of Morning Sickness

It is not as simple as saying that population density necessarily causes poverty. Tokyo is densely populated and prosperous; Russia is sparsely populated and impoverished. Nor is it clear to me that by having a large family in San Diego, I am taking food from the mouths of starving children elsewhere. True, the United States consumes a disproportionate percentage of the world’s resources, but multiple children does not mean mass consumerism.

May 20, 1999 | Read full article

Keep Your Eye on Dad

It was Dad who made me turn myself in to the principal after he found out I had been drinking at a high school cast party, a violation of school policy as well as the law. The principal stared at me, bewildered. Here was this honor student, this two-sport athlete, who was up to his neck in school-related activities, turning himself in for a crime that would result in his suspension from those activities.

June 17, 1999 | Read full article

Concern for the Lion

The rise of the dopey dad in the popular imagination is an oft-noted phenomenon. It seems to me that at some point, children inquire as to the foundation of Dad’s authority. If what they find is not enough to convince them that his authority — his “right to be obeyed” — is legitimate, not enough to counteract whatever forces are working against him, then the claim that “I’m your father!” ceases to be a self-evident reason for obedience.

July 8, 1999 | Read full article

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Sanctified and glorified at Encanto Southern Baptist Church

Life is important on this side of death, but what really matters is eternity.
Finian at six weeks with the author - Image by Chad Weckler
Finian at six weeks with the author

I Have Purchased a Grey Cardigan Sweater

My wife and I fell in love over wine, bourbon, and cognac. We attended a college with a dry campus, and many evenings were spent sitting in my car under a highway overpass just off campus known to students as The Pit, a bottle between us and a candle on the dashboard. We developed the habit of each other, the ease of being together that bodes well for domestic bliss.

Feb. 13, 1997 | Read full article

Men Will Rise to the Level Women Demand of Them

I decided I couldn't stand my coach and I quit playing baseball. And that was it. As intensely as dad had supported me, as hard as he had worked with me, he did not try to keep me where I did not need to be. It was a lesson to me. I am not for hands-off parenting. But here was a place where letting go, while it would not affect my quality of soul, might still be difficult. 

March 20, 1997 | Read full article

Our One and Noble Function

I'm not saying women shouldn't work. I'm saying that parents ought to look to their children. That is the "one and noble function of the time." It's not a question of politics, it's a question of love. As the narrator aunt tells Dean in On the Road, "You can't go all over the country having babies like that. Those poor little things'll grow up helpless. You've got to offer them a chance to live."

April 17, 1997 | Read full article

Call No Man Blessed Until He Is in the Grave

People react the way they would if you told them you had landed a job or won an award. But pregnancy is not the result of an achievement of this sort. It is the result of sex, and though I believe sex with my wife is both an expression of love and an occasion of grace, the fact remains that most men and women can take part in the conception of a child. It requires no special virtue.

May 29, 1997 | Read full article

This Was Labor, Not an Aneurysm

Whether he feels the same about me is another matter. His first excursion with Dad was to the circumcision table, something we did so that he would look like his father, so he wouldn't get made fun of in the locker room, and because it is customary. All he knows is it hurt, and Dad brought him there. I also get to change him, a ritual that includes rubbing Vaseline on his wounded penis.

July 3, 1997 | Read full article

To Be a Chunker

In Evelyn Waugh's "Work Suspended," the narrator falls in love with a pregnant woman, despite the fact that she is "deprived of sex, as women are, by its own fulfillment." In contrast to this is John Updike's Couples. Before I married, I agreed with Waugh — sex with a pregnant woman seemed somehow of another order, almost weird. But when Deirdre got pregnant, three months into our marriage, I started tending toward Updike.

July 31, 1997 | Read full article

I Said I Was Looking Forward to Trying to Raise a Saint

I had a moment of clarity. A moment when words resume their original force and meaning. (Amazing that we can use words like God, the Devil, Heaven, Hell, Sin, Grace, the Incarnation, and all the rest of it with such casual tones, but we can, because they have been softened by use. What does "born again" signify anymore?) These words were, for a moment, clear. "Live no longer for ourselves, but for Him...."

Aug. 28, 1997 | Read full article

After Job, Wife, and Family Fall into Place

The Normal Heights house we are in the process of buying is not dull, but neither is it exotic. One-story Craftsman, wood exterior, three bedrooms, one and a half baths, a garage for an office, and a small yard. Cushy linoleum covers the large kitchen floor; the rest is forgiving, coverable hardwood. There is room for an herb garden. We have struck a balance between form and function. The baby is boss. "What is normal" remains to be seen.

Sept. 25, 1997 | Read full article

My Darling Droolbucket

Four months, and I still find myself believing that motherhood has descended on Deirdre with all the ease of an inherited crown. Solutions to the mystery of his sadness seemed infused in her; I must experiment. Contrasts between being and doing square off in my head — she simply holds him to her breast, and lo, by nature, comforting milk appears. I, on the other hand, must cavort, sing, and jostle to win Fin's grin.

Oct. 30, 1997 | Read full article

Fin Kisses

Fin knows our devotion to dinner, and he demands to be a part of it. Seated in a bouncy seat on the floor, he complains until he sits upon a lap, Out darts a hand into the Gorgonzola-onion-tomato sauce. Then, a pleading reach for a fork, placed just beyond his grasp. If we pick our food up to eat it, his eyes follow it to our mouths, full of the accusation that we have cheated him. 

Nov. 26, 1997 | Read full article

What Good Is Dad For?

When he came to the movie theater where I was seeing a movie I had been forbidden to see and led me away in front of everyone I was with. I was mortified. But by the end of high school, when classmates pitied me for my strict father, I was able to say, "At least I know he cares about me." ....Someone told me once, "A mother is mother by nature; but a father is a father by will."

Dec. 18, 1997 | Read full article

Free-Range Baby

He has made Mount Mama his Everest. When she is reclining, he ascends the swell of her hip. When she is sitting, he seeks handholds in the crook of her arm and on her shoulder and in the ropes of blond hair that dangle above him. The Fin Kiss he gives upon arrival at Mama's chin has become a Fin Clench: a hard, toothless chomp, hand clutching the hair on the back of her head.

Jan. 22, 1998 | Read full article

Behold the Imp

The main character of William Kennedy's novel Ironweed is Francis Phelan, a ruined wreck of a man whose slide from happy normality began when he accidentally dropped his 13-day-old son Gerald on the floor and killed him. The guilt was too much; he deserted his wife and children. I read the book long before I became a father, but I never forgot that part of it.

Feb. 19, 1998 | Read full article

Poopfeet

Fin the excreter has several incarnations. We have met poop boy. Now for snot boy. I don't remember when Fin got his first cold. I do remember Deirdre staring at him after he sneezed and exclaiming, "Twin towers!" My stare followed hers, and I beheld two pillars of bright-green snot, applied as if by pastry bag from Fin's nostrils to his chin. I know a walrus's tusks originate in its mouth, but walrus tusks are what came to mind.

March 26, 1998 | Read full article

Not Mom

Finian is a first-generation Californian. As things stand, he will grow up in California. The particular atmosphere of San Diego will be his first and deepest impression of How Things Are. He will not come from a tightly wound small town in the Northeast; he will come from a relaxed big city on the West Coast. What sensibilities, what mannerisms will he exhibit that seem foreign to me? What will he, the native, see that I do not see?

April 9, 1998 | Read full article

Eeyore Strikes Again

Fin's “uh-oh” was significant of place — a Northeastern anxiety, a concern that the reason it's always cloudy is that the sky is indeed falling, or is at least very loose and leaky and expensive to repair. Not for nothing does Deirdre call me Eeyore. Growing up, if the family was on a trip and I sense the slightest hesitation in Dad's hand on the wheel, I would lean forward from the back seat and ask, "Are we lost?"

May 21, 1998 | Read full article

Da Always Wins

When Fin started crawling we started calling him a little mobile will. So many of the things he wished for as a helpless infant were now within reach — power cords, books on lower shelves, trash cans and their treasures. Later, when he gained the strength to pull himself up on coffee tables and chair legs, a new realm was opened to him the elevated surface. The TV remote, the still-forbidden cordless phone, the spigot to the water cooler.

June 18, 1998 | Read full article

I Had to Inspect His Mouth for Roach Eggs

I married a woman who can't handle roaches. Deirdre is a splendid, practical person, unperturbed by the messiness of the physical world. But when, while looking under the couch for a lost sandal, she brought forth a roach — a dead roach — within several inches of her face, she made a sound I had never heard before. The result was a twisted, shuddering moan. Later she opined that roaches were a result of the Fall.

July 23, 1998 | Read full article

The Way It Is with Boys and Guns

He loves balls. Soon after he was born, his great-grandparents set him a set of squeaky balls — a football, a baseball, and a basketball. They became highly prized, especially in the tub. Since then, the balls have accumulated, almost by themselves; a hi-bouncer, a beach ball, a Whiffle ball, a wobbly blue inflatable purchased on a whim at Wal-Mart, a stuffed cloth ball, a plastic football autographed by Otis Taylor of the Kansas City Chiefs (#84).

August 27, 1998 | Read full article

Fin Abandoned

We left on a Thursday. That night, he slept with my mom. When he woke up in the wee hours, she brought him downstairs, gave him some milk, then carried him back upstairs and rubbed his back until he fell asleep. Near painless. The next day, Mom and Lisa heard a strange cry coming from the front hallway — not a pain cry, not a frustrated scream, but a wailing lamentation. Finian had found our wedding picture on the small table in the hall, taken it down, and was now sitting, bent over it, crying and saying, "Mommy. Da."

Sept. 24, 1998 | Read full article

Don’t Blink

I never saw him leave the office and head for the gap between the gate and the hedge. I never saw him leave the yard and head out onto the street. I never saw that van. What I did see was a young woman crossing over to the other side of the street, staring at Deirdre and me like she was heading for the nearest phone to call Child Protective Services.

Oct. 22, 1998 | Read full article

Baby’s Gladdened Heart

I want him to learn that alcohol is not properly glossed with the sheen of the forbidden and the taboo; that its place is not in orgiastic partying — gettin' loaded! blitzed! bombed! hammered! smashed! wasted!  — but firmly in civilized life. It completes a meal, stimulates conversation, and gladdens the heart of man, and perhaps if he grows up seeing it enjoyed properly — not as an end in itself or as a means of getting laid.

Nov. 19, 1998 | Read full article

Possessed by the Blue Glow

Watching TV is the great quasisocial activity. Unlike reading, it's something I can do with my wife — watching TV together is a shared experience, unlike both reading in the same room. Anyway, we can never both read, because someone's always got to keep track of Finian. We can watch TV and monitor the boy at the same time — it only demands half of our attention. And it's different from one of us reading to the other.

Feb. 11, 1999 | Read full article

The Catch

An entire shelf of stuffed animals sits neglected as his red-mesh ball bag swells — baseballs, street-hockey balls, four-square balls, balls with strings that attach to the wrist, Ping Pong balls, whiffle-golf balls and baseballs, foam balls — basketball, tennis, baseball, football — tiny magnetic balls. Soft balls are allowed indoors, hard balls stay outside. To occupy him while Deirdre makes dinner, I take turns with him throwing a spongy red one against the front door.

March 4, 1999 | Read full article

Dad’s Little Pessimist

Fin took the occasion to practice dinky little half-throws, throws that traveled about a foot in the air, then rolled the rest of the way toward their target. “C’mon now, Fin, gun it!” I would plead. Fin, whose powerful arm amazed my family when we gathered for Christmas, enjoyed this new style. It wasn’t until we were almost ready to go that he uncorked one, leading Jack’s dad to exclaim, “Wow, he’s got an arm on him!” 

April 29, 1999 | Read full article

A Different Kind of Morning Sickness

It is not as simple as saying that population density necessarily causes poverty. Tokyo is densely populated and prosperous; Russia is sparsely populated and impoverished. Nor is it clear to me that by having a large family in San Diego, I am taking food from the mouths of starving children elsewhere. True, the United States consumes a disproportionate percentage of the world’s resources, but multiple children does not mean mass consumerism.

May 20, 1999 | Read full article

Keep Your Eye on Dad

It was Dad who made me turn myself in to the principal after he found out I had been drinking at a high school cast party, a violation of school policy as well as the law. The principal stared at me, bewildered. Here was this honor student, this two-sport athlete, who was up to his neck in school-related activities, turning himself in for a crime that would result in his suspension from those activities.

June 17, 1999 | Read full article

Concern for the Lion

The rise of the dopey dad in the popular imagination is an oft-noted phenomenon. It seems to me that at some point, children inquire as to the foundation of Dad’s authority. If what they find is not enough to convince them that his authority — his “right to be obeyed” — is legitimate, not enough to counteract whatever forces are working against him, then the claim that “I’m your father!” ceases to be a self-evident reason for obedience.

July 8, 1999 | Read full article

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