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Being Mean. Dads Teach By Example

by Archie Wortham

"One of these sweet children walking onto campus their freshmen year may never catch it but yours could be the one," Paige Kach of Carmel, N. Y., was quoted after her son fell ill at Rhode Island's Salve Regina University diagnosed with having meningococcal meningitis.

Meningococcal meningitis is a rare bacterial meningitis that can sicken and kill terrifyingly quick, and college freshmen who live in dormitories are one of the prime targets. Paige's son John, thought he had a mere stomach bug. John felt fine one day, but spent the next day throwing up. By the end of the day, the 19-year-old college freshman was in a coma; spent almost four months in the hospital and survived only after doctors amputated one foot and all his fingers and toes. Patrick Kepferle a freshman at Towson University in Maryland wasn't so lucky. He died less than 24 hours after the first symptoms.

Only about 3000 Americans a year get this contagious bacterial infection of membranes around the brain and spinal cord. About 300 die. Another 450, like John Kach, survive with some form of permanent disability: lost limbs, deafness or mental retardation. According to Dr. Nancy Rosenstein of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, meningococcal meningitis is one of the few remaining infectious diseases in the United States where you can take someone who is perfectly healthy one day and they can be dead in 24 to 48 hours. If that doesn't scare you, I'm not sure what will.

Why am I emphasizing this now? Because many times men feel we're invincible. But how do you fix an amputated foot, or replace fingers and toes? Have do you bring someone back? You don't. But what if a simple vaccination was all it took to make sure this did not happen to your son or daughter, would you make sure it was done? I think so.

Many times, as fathers, we cannot be sure what our children will encounter when they are away from home. The best we can attempt is vaccinate them as best we can with good home grown ideas that kept us healthy and out of harm's way. We must not allow ourselves to be lulled to sleep thinking nothing like this can happen in our home, or to our kids.

Take my sons for instance. I love them dearly. I scold them affectionately. And I'm on their case. Not as much as some parents might be, but these are my kids. No one knows them like I do, except maybe their mom. I know who they are, because I know who I am. But sometimes I forget. Forget what's it's like to be a kid. Forget what it's like to have a dad that really cares to teach his son how to become a man. I'm the one who teaches them how to ‘treat girls,' by how I treat their mom. I'm the one who teaches them about drugs, by not using them. I'm the one they learn contrition from, because when I'm wrong, I admit I'm wrong.

Recently, on a family trip, I'd promised my older son he and I were going to do something together. Mom chirped in that he'd not been in his best state of mind "right at a moment" I was ticked at him. So I reneged on my promise. He sucked it up...like a man. Didn't complain, didn't say he was sorry. Just accepted it.

Realizing what a child I'd been, I took my wife for a walk. I told her how stupid I'd been. How I'd done what I'd done out of meanness. It was a hard thing for me to accept about myself, but it was the truth. I told her I'd promised the boy something and used her to get out of it. It wasn't fair, I told her. Wives, when their husbands admit to this kind of stupidity, are compelled to agree. They commiserate a bit, then ask the proverbial "Why?" question, like I'd know. But I knew I had to set it right with my son. So, he'd learned dad can apologize, and keep promises. We did what I'd promised we'd do, and life went on.

He has all his fingers, toes and his feet. Some kids are not so lucky. So if you ever get the urge to hurt...remember what it's like to be hurt. Watch your kids. Love them. Teach them how to forgive. That's one disease even the Centers for Disease Control cannot contain.

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