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Controlled Energy, Constancy Pay Off

Sun., June 15, 1997

When a 63-year-old California woman gave birth recently, Americans cried “foul.” But when 77-year-old Tony Randall’s baby was born last month, he made the talk show rounds and won standing ovations.

We labor under a delusion about fathers. We fool ourselves into thinking a father’s major contribution occurs at conception, while a mother’s extends 18 years and beyond.

But, of course, we’re wrong about that. Tony Randall’s work as a father has just begun. And the child of that 63-year-old woman also needs a healthy dad with longevity in his genes.

Today, on Father’s Day, as our annual soap-on-a-rope buying frenzy peaks, it’s important to remember that being a good father takes all the energy, stamina and patience a man can muster.

Fathers are our guides into the larger world. Mothers shine at holding us, soothing away nightmares. They say, “Tell me where it hurts” and “Do you need a hug?” Fathers focus on the future. They create confidence. “Set a screen.” “Concentrate.” “You’re fine!” they say.

It is in adolescence that fatherless children suffer most. That’s when boys desperate for male approval may turn to gang violence and crime, girls to promiscuity and pregnancy.

But fathers who are inconsiderate, irresponsible and unable to control their temper also harm their children. In a recent study, these kids were more likely to lack close friends, make risky choices, and suffer from depression.

Research has shown that many men aren’t naturally hard-wired for patience. Their physiology, shaped when the environment made rapid acceleration a survival skill, triggers a quick emotional arousal. When they’re angry, their throats constrict, their palms sweat and their hearts race. Their ability to think creatively plummets.

But wise men teach themselves patience. And the world is full of role models.

Chicago Bulls coach Phil Jackson, for example, starts each day with zen meditation. He leads a team with as much diversity, blazing talent and outrageous dysfunction as any extended family, and consistently wins.

One of his secrets: Jackson occasionally checks his pulse during games. When his pulse shoots over 100 beats per minute, he knows his thinking will be affected. He relies on meditation techniques, right there on the basketball court, to consciously calm down.

Few fathers today face the challenges of coaching a Michael Jordan or reining-in a Dennis Rodman. But the best ones will persevere year after year, combining testosterone-enhanced energy with monk-like patience to produce kids who win.

, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Jamie Tobias Neely/For the editorial board

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