Dads Against the Divorce Industry

DA*DI is devoted to reinstating the societal valuation of Marriage and the traditional, nuclear American Family, with particular emphasis on the essential role of FATHERS.

DA*DI offers contemporary reports and commentary on culture; its aberrations and its heroes.

Published Sunday
April 09, 2000

Tom Purcell: When Kids Came First


The writer freelances from his home in Alexandria, Va.

Alexandria, Va. - Thursday nights were grocery shopping night and the best night of the week. Right after dinner, my father and I would board the 1970 Plymouth Fury III station wagon and head to the Del Farm, which was located in a small plaza one mile from our suburban Pittsburgh home.

Like all grocery stores then, the Del Farm was a utilitarian place. There were no lobster tanks or gourmet food displays. The daily specials were written in black magic marker on torn sheets of white paper and taped to the front windows. Inside, the white tile floor was worn through, along the popular routes, to the concrete. Everything was painted white and illuminated by the bare florescent bulbs that hung above.

I got to push the cart and help my dad find the dozens of items on my mother's shopping list. They watched their spending carefully, as my father was the sole breadwinner, but he'd usually give in a little. On a good night, he'd buy a box of Del Farm's fresh-baked oatmeal and chocolate chip cookies and a bag of Synders of Berlin Potato Chips and onion dip (my mother's favorite).

One Thursday a month, we'd stop at the beer distributor afterwards for a case of Pabst Blue Ribbon and 12 32-ounce bottles of Regent soda pop. The small store was packed with boxes of beer. The store's owner gave me a pretzel rod, then the subject shifted to the Pirates, new car models and other things that we guys liked to talk about in those days.

Sometimes, after that, dad and I would make a run to the drug store or drive to another plaza a mile further to get a Sunday pot roast. On the way home, we'd stop in at the "little store," which is what we called the privately owned convenience store in our neighborhood, to load up on fresh lunchmeat and cheese. When we pulled the loaded-down station wagon into the garage, everyone in the house was alerted and the massive unloading process began.

We usually got everything packed away by 8 p.m., just in time to head to the family room to watch "The Waltons." We'd bring down a bowl of ice and then open some bottles of Regent soda pop, the orange being our favorite. I was usually the first one to open the Synders of Berlin chips. And as I tore open the heavy foil bag, my senses were overwhelmed by the smell of freshly fried chips. I'd load them into a few bowls and set them on the tables.

And there sat my sisters and my parents, watching "The Waltons," eating the finest chips ever made, sipping our soda and feeling safe and secure. It was Thursday, after all, and the weekend was soon to come. The house was loaded to the hilt with food, which was always a fine feeling. My mother and father were together and with us, and all was right with the world.

I didn't know then how lucky I was to enjoy such security. I didn't understand that what I was enjoying was the fruit of the labors of two people who put their children's needs so far before their own that we didn't know they had needs. What a tremendous impediment we were to their comfort and any desires they may have had to fulfill their own interests or desires. No, in our home, the children came first, to hell with what the parents' needs were.

And I have been thinking about this lately. Madonna is having another child to another fellow she isn't married to to fill another void in her life. It's the hip thing to do among the wealthy and the single these days: If you have a need or longing, then fill it. Don't worry about your child's need for a dad and don't call your actions selfish. Instead, mock the old family model of mother and father.

I'm not saying Madonna isn't a good and loving mother. I hope her children, and those of other people who avoid having husbands and fathers around, turn out just fine. But I do know this: When I open a bag of Synders of Berlin potato chips, I am filled again with the security and happiness that I felt so long ago, because my mother and father were together and putting my needs first.

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