A salute to the Stealth Dad

Wayne Bare, in 1962, with his daughter Laura.

Story highlights

  • John Bare: My father was part of a generation of Stealth Dads
  • He says today's fathers are more likely to draw attention to themselves, in social media era
  • He says his father was always there for him when he needed to be
  • Bare: Stealth Dad doesn't speak up unless he can improve on the silence

Amid all the talk of helicopter parents and Tiger Moms, let us now praise Stealth Dads.

Not to be confused with the Absentee Father, who flamboyantly disappoints, the Stealth Dad exceeds expectations without drawing attention to himself.

I am the son of a Stealth Dad, as are a number of my friends. Several have lost their Stealth Dads in recent years. For the rest of us, time is precious.

The Stealth Dad is at the end of a good run. Social media has made stealth unfashionable, with every utterance now an exhibition. And private family milestones have been outsourced to consultants. When I read about the parent hiring a coach to teach a kid to ride a bike, I mourned for the Stealth Dad.

John Bare

In the end, the passing of a generation will finish the job. Demographers William Strauss and Neil Howe describe Americans born between 1925 and 1942 as the Silent Generation. This is the rich vein of Stealth Dad ore.

Stuck between Greatest Generation heroes and look-at-us Boomers, the Silent Generation never produced a U.S. president. Instead, say Strauss and Howe, Silents became America's "facilitators and technocracts."

Silents had ready access to college and jobs and avoided heavy war casualties. Silents experienced other frustrations, forever the "gap" in the Generation Gap that divided World War II leadership from 1960s revolutionaries.

Strauss and Howe explain that, for Silents, "their solutions -- fairness, openness, due process, expertise -- reflect a lack of surefootedness, but also a keen sense of how and why humans fall short of grand civic plans or ideal moral standards. Silent appeals for change have seldom arisen from power or fury, but rather through a self-conscious humanity and tender social conscience."

I like the notion of a tender social conscience. It fits my own Stealth Dad, who married the pretty girl at a Wake Forest College picnic, became a math teacher and then the principal who peacefully integrated the high school in the town of Garner, North Carolina. He served for years as an associate superintendent in Wake County, indispensable in the technocrat role. Once retired, he worked as the business manager for a church. Now, at 76, Wayne Bare keeps marshmallows in his pocket, for his granddaughter Leah.

My close friends and I are also generational misfits, too young to be authentic Boomers and too old to line up neatly with Gen X.

Stealth Dad attended some, not all, of our sporting events. When Stealth Dad was there, he never threw a tantrum. When he wasn't there, we behaved as if he was.

In crisis, Stealth Dad lowers the volume. Stealth Dad doesn't speak up unless he can improve upon the silence.

Stealth Dad is parsimonious with counsel. Having been spared a thousand aphorisms, we had no choice but to direct our attention to the specific Stealth Dad behaviors plainly predictive of a successful life.

Stealth Dad puts fairness above nearly everything else.

I walked to my elementary school. On the few rainy days when my Stealth Dad would drive me, he used our family car. Then he drove back home and set out for the office in a county-owned car provided by the school system. This vehicle was only to be used for work.

While he follows rules, Stealth Dad challenges authority.

Back in 1968, when many country clubs where still accessible only to whites, my Stealth Dad appointed an African-American man, James Farris, to be golf coach for our town's newly integrated high school. My Stealth Dad was in the audience last month when Farris was inducted into the Garner Athletics Hall of Fame.

In the Baptist church we attended through my childhood, there came a time when one half of the congregation grew furious at the other half. If you have spent time in Baptist churches, this is not as consequential as it sounds. Yet in this case, the dispute could not be settled without a public airing of grievances. The hearing would take place during a business meeting that would follow the Sunday service.

The only thing the feuding groups could agree on was that my Stealth Dad would facilitate, from the pulpit. There I sat in the church balcony, like Scout Finch looking down at the trial below, learning to turn off the fury and manifest self-conscious humanity.

On good days, I can pull it off myself. Happy Father's Day to Stealth Dads everywhere.

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