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Fatherhood

Floor Speech

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. FRANKS of Arizona. Well, I just thank the gentlelady, Mr. Speaker, because she has demonstrated such a wonderful presence in this body. She has been a gift to all of us. I know that each person who has preceded me at this platform is grateful for Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler. I wish there were about another 200 like her and I might just go home. But I really appreciate her so much.

Mr. Speaker, it's been said that a father is a man who expects his children to be as good as he meant to be. I have yet to meet a father who doesn't want to convey his own mistakes to his children. He wants his children to learn from his mistakes, to give his children the best possible start in life, serving as a springboard from which to face the day-to-day challenges that ultimately come. But I really don't think that's such a comprehensive definition.

Those of us who are privileged to be in a Christian family believe that there is a loftier image of fatherhood, that there is One after whom we model our

inevitably flawed attempts to raise our children with love and wisdom, a perfect father who gives us ``every good and perfect gift,'' who is a father to the fatherless and a help in times of need to the widow and the oppressed. And it is only in having children sometimes that we begin to understand just a little glimpse of how our heavenly Father feels about the rest of us.

To most women, their father was their first love. To most men, their father was their first larger-than-life idol. The role a father plays in the life of his children simply cannot be overstated. That fact, Mr. Speaker, that knowledge that little eyes are watching every move we make, often emulating what they see for good or bad, no matter what we do, we will never feel quite fully equipped to do justice to the sacred responsibility to which God has entrusted us.

There is a famous saying that the greatest gift a father can give his children is to love their mother. And the point of that quote of course is that a healthy, intact home gives a child the best possible chance at pursuing and achieving their dreams.

But for all its difficulties, what a sweet and blessed honor it is to be entrusted with the task of raising these little human images of unconditional love. I've said it before, Mr. Speaker, and I believe with every passing day that every baby that is born comes with a message from God that He has not yet despaired of mankind on Earth. Yet I look around at the state of the American family, Mr. Speaker, that bedrock institution that is responsible more than any other factor for inculcating the truth into the hearts and minds of each new generation, and I believe that it is facing a grave and profound challenge in America.

A mentor and a friend of mine, Gary Bauer, recently wrote an article on this very subject. He was highlighting the state of affairs in which so many Americans find themselves without the firm, guiding, loving hand of a father.

Indeed, Mr. Speaker, 40 percent of children are now born to unmarried parents, including a majority of children born to women 30 years old or younger. A recent study in Richmond, Virginia, found that 60 percent of families in the city have just one parent--usually the mother--at home. Among black residents, it's 86 percent of homes that are single parents.

A related Pew study estimated that women, when they are the prime breadwinners--and they are in 40 percent of American households--that, unfortunately, the majority of these households are led by a single mother who averages just $23,000 in annual income, whereas intact families average about $80,000 a year in income, by comparison.

Eighty-five percent of all young men--or even, for that matter, middle-aged men--in prison came from a family that never had a functional father figure in their midst--85 percent.

Mr. Speaker, it is an understatement to suggest to you that children are so desperately in need of both a mother and a father. And I know no better way to really illustrate that than just to try to tell the story of three fathers.

The first story I will tell is of one father named Earl Carr. He was my grandfather. Earl Carr was a coal miner. When he was just in his mid-twenties, a terrible cave-in crushed his friends, killed most of them, and broke his back. So as a child, I remember growing up when my grandfather could carry a coal bucket for maybe 40 or 50 feet, but then he would have to sit down. But he never abandoned his family, and he was always there in every way that he could be.

Just to illustrate to you how sometimes a grandfather can have a big impact on a grandson, more than 45 years has passed--and I hope I can remember it--but he used to be very fond of the ``Coal Miner's Ode,'' and it goes something like this:

Come and listen, you fellers, so young and so fine, and seek not your fortune in the dark dreary mine. It will form as a habit and seep in your soul 'til the stream of your blood runs as black as the coal.
Because it's dark as a dungeon, damp as the dew where the danger is double and the pleasures are few.
Where the rain never falls and the sun never shines, it's dark as a dungeon way down in the mines. And I hope when I'm gone and the ages shall roll, my body will blacken and turn into coal. And I will look from the door of my heavenly home and I'll pity the miner digging my bones. Because it's dark as a dungeon, damp as the dew, where the danger is double and the pleasures are few,
where the rain never falls and the sun never shines, it's dark as a dungeon way down in the mines.

I don't remember the last time I said that, Mr. Speaker, but I do know that it was over 40 years ago that I learned it, and a grandfather does have a lasting impact on our lives.

So now I will tell you another story of another father, and he's my father--a man named Taylor Franks. I won't go into--because I don't remember--how he was there for me when I was a baby and had some congenital defects and probably wouldn't have had the opportunity to be standing in this well had it not been for a faithful father, but I'll tell you just one story.

Years ago in the little town when I was growing up, I came away from the playground one day when I was about 5 or 6 years old, maybe 6 years old. And I came through an alley, and you know how it always is. There is sometimes a bunch of guys that want to demonstrate their macho capability. I walked past the fence and one of them yelled something at me and there was a rock fight that ensued. Now, they were behind the fence and there were several of them. I was out there alone and I was losing this battle very demonstrably. I would pick up one rock and throw it back because I didn't want to be discomforted by this band of ruffians, you understand. But I was losing, and I thought, Boy, what am I going to do? I am going to have to run, it looks like. And just at the moment when I was probably in the peak of my panic, all of a sudden the rocks stopped, everything was still, and I could see them peaking over the fence at me. I noticed a little carefully. It seemed like they were looking at something behind me. I turned and it was Taylor Franks. He said, How about me evening up the sides here just a little bit? He evened up the sides many, many times.

He's 87 years old now. But I'll tell you, if the communists ever come to this country to take us over, they better go around that old gentleman's house because they'll get more than they bargained for. This is a man that loves his country, loves his God, and loves his family. I have no words to express my gratitude to him.

So I will tell you about another father, who almost didn't think he was going to be one. But he calls his little boy ``little feller,'' because that's what his daddy called him. And his name is Joshua Lane, and he's my boy. He's got a sister, a twin sister. She's 5 minutes younger. Of course he takes care of her. But I can say to you that there is no greater gift on this Earth than these children.

Somehow, I guess, the point of all this, Mr. Speaker, is just to remind all of us that are fathers what they meant to us and what we mean to our children. Sometimes I have to watch mine grow up at a distance, but they know their daddy loves them and they know their daddy is here so that we can make a better future for them.

I guess my challenge to the fathers of this country is to be reminded that your children grow up so quickly and your impact on them will be profound beyond any words that I could ever articulate. They say that great societies finally come when old men plant trees under whose shade they will never sit. I believe that to be true, that our greatest jobs as fathers is to make sure that our children have the inculcated truths that will help them find their way home and through the great storms of life. We should always remind ourselves that they are, indeed, the living messages that we send to a time we will never see ourselves.

I hope that somehow that fathers of this country will recognize the gift that they've been given and they will recognize the impact that they will have, and that the rest of society will recognize that if we displace fathers in our country, we will bankrupt us all trying to replace them.

With that, Mr. Speaker and Congresswoman Hartzler, I yield back.

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