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Grace for every father’s son

Published 8:13pm Saturday, June 15, 2013

By Dennis Edwards


Sometimes I believe the word “complicated” was created just to describe the relationship between fathers and sons.

We raise them to the best of our ability, give them every resource available, and still the outcome can be as random as a toss of the dice. So many variables beyond our control. There are outside influences and unanticipated reactions to the success, celebrity and wealth a father or family acquires.

I was in school with the children of many famous fathers. One roommate’s dad was among Martin Luther King Jr.’s key lieutenants during the civil rights movement. He is legendary for his preaching intellect, photographic memory and administrative ability. He went from marching with King to a key position with the Rockefeller Foundation in New York.

Yet none of his sons were able to find a place to excel in his shadow. One wound up in prison, another bounced from job to job and still others never accomplish much on their own.

There’s no way to tell how sons or daughters will react in the shadow of high-profile parents. While in college, my son expressed frustration with “always having to be the perfect kid.” For the most part, he seemed to handle being the son of a high-profile television journalist and minister. But there were prices he and I paid that I didn’t see coming.

Some children embrace the success and seek to follow the path carved out before them. Others rebel throughout their lives and into late adulthood, although rebellion in the 50s is stretching the bounds of reason and patience.

There ought to be limits on how long a parent is publicly or privately held responsible for a troubled child. Maybe there’s a need to view each case on its own merits.

After all, do we really know what it’s like to be the son of a successful parent? Do we know what it’s like to stand in a large shadow for a lifetime — never, perhaps, to be seen as your own man?

There comes a time when a child, no matter his age, should stop trying the patience of a community, if for no other reason than in appreciation for a parent’s love.

Does the troubled daughter or son benefit from the family name? Probably. Does that mean there’s something untoward in efforts to provide a way out? There’s no objective way to tell. More likely, folks want to do kindnesses for people they respect and who have treated them well over the years. Goodwill is a powerful ally.

I can’t help wishing everyone benefited the same way from the kindness of community and family friends. Too often, young men are punished excessively for mistakes or pranks. Maybe the lessons learned from the struggles of children of well-known parents should be applied to all. Everybody has a burden to bear, a secret hurt, a wounded child within crying out for help.

Maybe the greater good in situations like these is to spread understanding grace around. Do for someone else’s son what you’d do for the son of a highly regarded friend. Understand the stranger’s son as well as we understand the son of the privileged.

Maybe it’s time to widen the tent of grace, time to remember every father’s son needs a break and any father’s son who gives one should expect some other father to do the same.

Dennis Edwards is an Emmy Award-winning television news reporter and anchor, He is a 1974 graduate of Suffolk High School. Email him at



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