The primary storyline of the book entitled, The Council of Dads: My Daughters, My Illness, and the Men Who Could Be Me (William Morrow: 2010), is how Bruce Feiler, author of nine books about how he “walked” through his most important life experiences, faces a year of bone cancer in his leg which requires weeks of chemotherapy, followed by surgery, followed by more chemotherapy, extensive recovery and physical therapy. But, foremost in his mind are his twin three-year old daughters and how they would fare in a world without their Dad.
His concern is how difficult his daughters’ lives might be “without my voice.” “Would they wonder who I was? Would they wonder what I thought? Would they yearn for my approval, my discipline, my love?”
Feiler decides to ask six men to “help be their dad” in his absence because of his strong belief that fathers have special value in the lives of young girls becoming young women.
“These are the men who know me best…. share my values… helped shape and guide me… traveled with me, studied with me, have been through pains and happiness with me.”
Watching Feiler think intensely about how these men added value to his life over the years is a fascinating experience. And it also reveals many of the thoughts that go through men’s minds as they build a business (like Feiler started a family) then decide to assemble just the right team of compatriots to carry on the vision in the event that he might not “be there to the end.”
His concept is not simply a selfish focus on himself or an attempt to recreate himself through the Council of Dads. His concept is how to develop the full potential and capacity of his twin daughters, as he would wish he would be able to do were he to live through this brutal year of cancer treatments.
“I would like [my twin daughters] to know themselves through their Council of Dads. … A few words, an open door, a welcome embrace every now and then will ensure that your presence [as a Council of Dads] will be a constant guide in the girls’ lives.”
Men do things that women do not. Men think of their legacy. They think intently of the future and what it might look like, with or without them. A Council of Dads is a special group into whose hands this Dad was willing to commend his rambunctious, adventuresome, and enthusiastic daughters. Feiler wanted his daughters to feel the love, dedication, lessons, and wisdom of his six peers – not older and wizened men – just great friends who had walked along side of him at strategic points in his life.
Men hand over to other men significant and meaningful tasks when they form councils, boards, or groups like these. Interesting is how the Council soon took on a life of its own.
“But as I started to share the idea with the men, the Council began to evolve. For starters, the dads took action. One sent a magazine subscription; another stopped by more frequently; a third asked for more photos of the girls. As one of them said, “I think it’s part of my responsibility as a Council member to know the girls as they grow up.”
Men hold themselves mutually accountable for their own performance expectations once they create a team or council. They accept the responsibility as “a duty” to act at their highest possible level of potential. They create the sense of self required by the position they accept. They create the “governance” that guides them as a group.
“Even more surprising, the men took a keen interest in one another—with equal parts curiosity, kinship, and rivalry. A fraternity developed. And suddenly my notion of a list no longer applied. It was more like a community, a circle, a
Stonehenge assembly where the girls
could seek refuge.”
Men choose other men who complement themselves; not clones, but rather individuals who represent different facets or who add a unique dimension.
“In this circle I had certain figures: my childhood buddy, my camp counselor, my college roommate, my business partner, my closest confident.” And ultimately, “someone to explain [your creative side] how you looked at the world.”
He purposefully did not include women. Not that his wife, Linda Rottenberg, founder and CEO of Endeavor.org, would not be capable of performing at the highest level. After all, she was his partner in all of the cancerous bad news, treatments, and chaos. Her wisdom and insight helped Feiler find the right men to serve as his Council of Dads. He knew that his wife would be ok – she would not just endure, she would prevail.
“Linda would be fine. She would experience a lot of pain and inconvenience, but in the end she would find a way to live a life of passion and joy.”
He wanted a Council of Dads to complement all the wonderful family, friends, community, and support that surrounded him during his “lost year” and who would be there for his daughters in the event that he might not be. There is something special in Dad-dom that would be missing with him gone. His purpose was to ensure that his daughters did not feel the emptiness. His special gift to them was six voices to slay the monsters which the two girls might encounter in their journey to growing up to their full potential.
There is something special about all the thought that goes into assembling a group of a few worthy men to care for that which you consider precious. Could women be as focused on the future? Could they be as self-less as the men were willing to be? Could we imagine a mother, in a similar situation – facing the prospect of death, envisioning a Council of Mothers to take on the responsibilities of guidance and of “being there” for her children, male or female? Could we imagine whom a mother might tap to take on such a challenge? And how might they perform?