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Publication: Conservative Review
Fatherhood, Greatness, and Tim Russert

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                   June 17, 2008

Fatherhood, Greatness, and Tim Russert
By Harry R. Jackson, Jr.

Last week the nation was shocked by the sudden death 
of Tim Russert. He left an indelible mark on journalism 
and the American culture. So deep are the feelings of 
respect for this man that federal lawmakers from New 
York want to a name a western New York highway after 
him; the process will begin this week.

Many journalists have noted with interest that the 
occurrence of Russert’s death just before Father’s day 
seems strangely appropriate given his best selling books 
about his relationship with his father, Big Russ. After 
reading Russert’s account of how he decided to write 
his follow-up book to Big Russ and Me, I am convinced 
that he had a special understanding of the “builder” 
generation and their children. The Wisdom of Our Fathers: 
Lessons and Letters from Daughters and Sons will no doubt 
become a classic work on fatherhood and family. It may 
very well be that Russert’s biggest legacy will not come 
from Meet the Press but from his writings on fatherhood. 

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Week after week, no one discussed the major political 
issues of our day with more authority and clarity than 
Russert. He was reputed to be a man that could ask the 
tough question and challenge the positions of the 
nation’s brightest newsmakers, with a spirit of civility 
and grace. Yet his perspective on family life and his 
personal values may be his greatest gift to our nation 
and our culture. America is at a crossroads - we face a 
crisis of identity. The answer to our crisis may be as 
simple as remembering the legacy of our fathers and 
walking in the principles that made them great people.

Russert’s death has reminded me of the importance of 
Father’s Day and the significant father figures who have 
transformed my life. I am not the only one. Each of Tim 
Russert’s two books has sold like hot cakes this weekend. 
They are ranked in the top two sales positions at Barnes 
and Noble. What a feat! People all over the country are 
taking a fresh interest in the most benign of the family 
holidays. I often joke with my church congregants that 
you can never find a seat at a restaurant on Mother’s 
Day but fathers are gypped. In the words of Rodney 
Dangerfield, “We don’t get no respect!”

Against this backdrop of the lack of celebration of father-
hood in our culture, let’s take a little deeper look at 
the history of Father’s Day. I was only recently made aware 
of the fact that it was Lyndon Johnson that signed a pres-
idential proclamation in 1966 that set the 3rd Sunday in 
June as Father’s Day. 

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The first Father’s Day celebration sprang up in 1908 in 
West Virginia. A deadly mine explosion occurred in Monongah, 
WV claiming 361 lives. Because many of the men who perished 
were fathers, a fatherhood celebration seemed very appro-
priate. But the most interesting story about this emerging 
tradition occurred two years later on June 19, 1910 in 
Spokane Washington.

Mrs. Sonora Dodd was inspired to develop a Father's Day 
observance because of her unusual upbringing. The thought 
actually came to her as she listened to a church sermon 
about the newly recognized Mother's Day celebration that 
had swept the country. Mrs. Dodd’s mother had died in 
childbirth with her sixth child when Sonora was only 16 
years old. Her father, William Smart, endured the grief 
of widowhood while caring for his six kids. As the oldest 
child and the only girl, Sonora assisted her father in
caring for her younger brothers. Her father was a Civil 
War veteran who made single parenting look easy. In fact, 
he conducted himself so deftly that it was not until Mrs. 
Dodd became an adult that she realized just how self-
sacrificing and committed her father had been.

Sonora Dodd became the Tim Russert of her day, championing 
the cause of fatherhood and family in the nation. Both 
Russert and Dodd may have caught on to something very im-
portant – the value of promoting and celebrating healthy 
families. We often minimize the importance of simple 
truisms such as strong families build strong communities, 
or the fact that hard working fathers are the backbone of 
the nation. They are the unsung heroes; a kind of social 
glue that has cohesively bonded communities together. These 
“average” fathers often serve as the inspiration for a next 
generation that soars beyond them in stature and impact. 

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It is often easier for us to look for new fangled answers 
to enduring questions than to actually do the important 
foundational labor necessary to change our lives. As a 
preacher, I have frequently been guilty of giving others 
flippant answers or pat solutions to their problems. Some-
times I forget to tell my readers or listeners that solv-
ing their problem may take focus, follow through, and 
lots of hard work.

Similarly, Tim Russert’s life and legacy has reminded me 
of the importance of fatherhood and the hard work needed 
to be a world-class dad. Parenting is definitely not for 
cowards! Big Russ’s story confirms this. Son Tim under-
stood the commitment needed for great fathering from the 
very beginning. In fact he wrote that the birth of his 
own son fundamentally changed his life. He intimated that 
although he remained a hard worker and the consummate 
professional, his highest attention was placed upon his 
son, Luke, from the day of his birth. I trust that we 
will honor Tim’s example by living his legacy instead of 
just repeating his words. 

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