- The Washington Times - Monday, June 9, 2003

Whenever I need to take refuge, I hide in the stacks of a library or a bookstore. On one such trip, I noticed a new section, “men’s studies.” The books, coming at the end of rows of missives on “women’s issues,” filled less than one shelf.

Men don’t like that touchy-feely stuff if it is labeled in such blatantly introspective terms. Too bad. For on this day, I found a gem.

I have since ordered several copies of Kenny Kemp’s “Dad Was a Carpenter: A Father, a Son, and the Blueprints for a Meaningful Life,” published by HarperSanFrancisco.

It makes for a great Father’s Day gift, or in my case, what became a cherished gift from a mother seeking to offer a little fatherly solace to a temporarily disillusioned son.

My son keeps his copy of this 112-page poignant life-lesson tale on his bedside table right along with the books of his role model, Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson; his Bible; and another spiritual guide written for men by Bishop T.D. Jakes.

From the title, one would assume that “Dad Was a Carpenter” is about Jesus Christ. Not quite.

It is about an ordinary man who provided practical but Christian (and godly) principles for everyday living for his children. One was the author, Mr. Kemp, a Salt Lake City contractor and lawyer, who won the 1999 Grand Prize in the Writer’s Digest National Self-Published Book Awards.

“Be a carpenter. Build something worthwhile. Start with yourself,” were words of wisdom, his father, O.C. Kemp, offered under the chapter titled “Hammer.” The elder Kemp was a pharmacist, but he was also one of those passionate fix-it men who had a penchant for building something out of what others might consider nothing.

The story unfolds as Kenny Kemp, with a younger brother’s help, returns home to San Diego to clean out their father’s garage. Their mother had not touched it four months after his father’s death. Each chapter bears the title of a carpenter’s tool, which serves as an allegory for a fatherly fable prompted by some event in the family’s photographic memory.

“Blueprint: Watch it when you make a deal with God — be sure to keep your end of the bargain.” Or “Paintbrush: Patch everything up — especially your relationships.” Or “Tape Measure: Building a go-cart with your son is better than taking him to the Indy 500.” Or “Glue: Memories are stubborn — they’ll survive even fires.”

Soul food for thought? “T-Square: Don’t send your kids to church — take them.” My favorite, “Saw: Never cut down a tree when you can build around it.” How many times have we heard this? “Bits (and Pieces): If you break it, you fix it. Consequence is the best teacher.”

Although the book is about fathers and sons, Mr. Kemp dedicated it to his mother, Virginia, an “able architect.” Actually, many of the principles are gender neutral, especially if you have a daughter who likes to tinker with tools.

I’ve always maintained that children benefit most from two-parent households, with fathers and mothers sharing gender-neutral duties. Those fortunate children with large extended families fare even better.

Although a woman can teach her children a value system befitting honorable humans, it is not always easy for a woman to teach a boy all he needs to know about becoming a better man. That’s why most of the women I know who are single mothers make sure their sons have a cadre of male role models when the guys need to do, or talk about, “guy things.” And the girls, too, need to know some of those “guy things” that only a present and protective father can convey.

Mr. Jakes’ straight-talking self-help book takes a personal-responsibility approach much like Mr. Kemp’s. Mr. Jakes dedicates his book “So You Call Yourself a Man?: A Devotional for Ordinary Men With Extraordinary Potential” to “my sons who are in the process of becoming men of integrity.”

Written with younger men in mind, Bishop Jakes’ chapters include “Dysfunction Is No Excuse” and “We Are All the Children of Oppression” and “Refuse to Remain a Well-Marked Target.”

He writes: “I, like most parents, am full of hopes and dreams loaded with rather lofty expectations of grandeur. Nevertheless, should my sons fall short of my hopes, I will remain faithful to my call — the call to be their father. It is not a position to be resigned but a relationship to be relied upon. It is a call that I am glad to fulfill as with all men who have someone who believes in them.”

For this coming Father’s Day, I offer as just a couple of suggestions for your special man, young or old, secured from one slightly hidden men’s studies section.

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