The strict father has been the target of much criticism over the past four decades, which is one reason why we don’t have very many strict fathers around any more. (Divorce is another reason). I’m not a particular advocate of strict/hard-line parenting, and it’s certainly true that the old, tough dad had his drawbacks. The best parent is one who mixes affection and discipline, who loves and is lovable but at the same time is respected and, when necessary, feared. But not all parents can do all these things, and while we might have wished that the old dad were more sensitive, he was very important, and his virtues much underappreciated.

Lately I’ve thought of some of my friends’ fathers and the way they interacted with their sons. One of my friends in college was a man of Japanese ancestry whom we’ll call Tim. Tim and his father often had conflicts–his father was hard-line, traditionally masculine, and conservative, whereas Tim was sensitive, unsure of himself, and liberal.

Tim and I were both from Los Angeles and were both away at college in Northern California. I recall one time in Tim’s sophomore year he was troubled by college and where he was heading in life, and called his father, telling him he wanted to quit school. What his father told him made quite an impression on me at the time. He said:

“You’re 21, right? Well, when I was 21 things were a bit different for me.

“When I was 21, I had a wife and a kid to support, no job, no education, no money, no property, and I’d just spent three years in a concentration camp. You stay there and tough it out.”

Was he right or was he wrong? On one level, he was certainly correct to put his son’s problems in perspective, and his son did go on to finish school and have a successful career. On the other hand, perhaps a more understanding approach would have been better–in part because of his father’s hard-line attitude, he and his son remained in conflict to one degree or another for many years. Perhaps his experiences in Manzanar (pictured above) warped his perception of what a young person’s life should be like.

On balance, I would side with the father–sometimes kids need someone to stiffen their backs and push them forward.

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