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Smell the Coffee: A tough act to follow

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- There are people whose acts you simply don't want to follow. Their light soaks up all the shine.Back around Christmas, my friend Ginger Hamilton and I went to Third Eye Cabaret at the Charleston Cellar at 8 Capitol St. Third Eye performances, held each Thursday night, feature a combination of live local talent -- musicians, songwriters and spoken-word. On the night we were there, a few poets got up and performed, the last of them being a former West Virginian (now a California professor) named Joe Limer.Limer talked fast and with passion, in bursts of such perfectly worded prose that my slow yet appreciative brain kept wishing for a rewind button.If I'd been one of the writers scheduled to speak after Limer, I'd have sneaked out the back door while he was on stage. I know what it's like to try and follow acts like his. I've been there many times.Most recently, it's been following after the woman, Kim DeMorato, who held my position at my job before me. She's been a tough act to follow. Kim is an efficient machine of a worker, with her color-coding and organizing ways. She was able to do -- with time to spare -- a job that has since been split into two. Coming along after her leaves me feeling incompetent on a regular basis.I say all this because I recognize what it's like to be the small, dull firework that bursts too soon after the sky-lighting purple. And because I feel sorry for any man who comes into my life, because I had a father who set the bar mighty high.Growing up, I assumed all dads were like mine. I thought they all had breakfast and dinner at the table with their wife and kids, that they rousted them from bed early on Saturday mornings to go for walks in the woods or along the train tracks, that they played games and built treehouses and that sort of thing. Recently, as I was driving a group of teenage girls, they started talking about their dads. The conversation was both heartbreaking and infuriating, and left me wanting to call my own father to say thanks.When one of the girls said she saw her dad only a few times a year, even though he lives less than a mile away, I asked if he'd always been that way."No," she said. "Dad loved us when we were little and cute, but he doesn't know what to do with us now, so he doesn't do anything at all. He doesn't even try."
I recognize how difficult teenagers can be. Most teens don't want to spend time with their folks, so it's the short segments here and there -- driving them from one place to another -- that can make or break a relationship.Once children hit their teens, they can seem so independent, but according to an article in Psychology Today, "adolescent girls are more likely to form positive opinions of men and are better able to relate to them when fathered by an involved dad."The article said daughters without an involved father are 53 percent more likely to marry as teens, 71 percent more likely to have children as teenagers, and 92 percent more likely to get divorced themselves.The U.S. Department of Health reports that "63 percent of teen suicides come from fatherless homes. That's 5 times the national average."And according to Justice and Behavior, 90 percent of all runaways and homeless children are from fatherless homes, as well as 80 percent of rapists with anger problems and 71 percent of all high school dropouts. Eighty-five percent of all youths in prison come from fatherless homes. That's 20 times the national average.
I know now how fortunate I've been to have a father like mine, although I didn't always recognize what I had. I remember one time when I was a kid, I watched a western movie where the dad jumped in front of his child just as a shot was being fired. It ended up costing him his life. The scene stuck with me. I couldn't get it out of my head, probably because I could absolutely imagine my own dad doing that same thing. I knew he wouldn't even hesitate. It was an upsetting, yet wonderful, realization.Skip ahead many years, to when I was in the hospital, giving birth to my own daughter. My parents were in a waiting room just down the hall. Afterward, Mom told me how much it was tearing my dad apart to hear me in pain. My hurting hurt him. That touched me greatly then. Touches me still.My family isn't terribly affectionate. We don't often, or easily, express what we feel. We're far more likely to prank you than hug you, but my brother and I always knew we were important to our dad. We knew he worried about us and sacrificed for us and felt our pain when we hurt.It might've taken me longer than it should, but I realize now that Dad did me a favor when he set the bar so high. It's something special to find a man who recognizes his value as a father. Who makes his children his top priority. It's something to be admired and appreciated.And so is my dad.Reach Karin Fuller via email at
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