I lost my father, Tom Westerfield, on September 11th last year.  Each of my brothers lost their father, and my mother lost her husband.  Dad was the leader of our family and was a teacher, especially for us boys.  Each of us shared something of interest with Dad, from farming and old tractors to Ham radio and disaster relief, to community leadership.  While we each connected to him in different ways we all still connected to him, and depended on his guidance and wisdom.

I could share stories about lessons my brothers and I learned from Dad, with six boys in the house spanning a decade in age the lessons came often.  The threat of Dad going out to get a switch - we would never get to choose one for ourselves - was a powerful motivator!  Still more powerful a motivator was Dad’s beaming pride when we accomplished something challenging.  Graduating from law school, successfully prosecuting a difficult criminal case, becoming a deacon, marrying Amanda (who Dad, of all people, suggested I date to begin with), are all vivid memories I have of making my father proud of me.  I am sad that Dad missed one of my biggest accomplishments to date, winning a Senate race few believed I could win, and by just a few weeks.

As I participate in discussions of policies aimed at helping families, I am reminded of the incredible value of having a father.  In addition to scripture, there are countless studies that conclusively support this belief: 63% of teen suicides occur in fatherless homes, 71% of high school dropouts come form fatherless homes, and 85% of incarcerated juveniles come from fatherless homes.  By contrast, a strong father presence is linked to higher academic performance, provides confidence and protection against negative peer pressure, and leads to a decreased likelihood of anti-social behavior, early sexual activity, teen pregnancy, and substance abuse.

But despite our best efforts, there will never be an adequate legislative substitute for the family, including the strong presence of a leading, loving father.  We must work together as friends, neighbors and communities to protect the family and encourage fathers to fill their natural role in the lives of our children.  What the General Assembly can do is to provide resources and help for those men along the way.

During this weekend, as we celebrate Father’s Day, I ask you to keep family and Fathers everywhere in your prayers.  Look for opportunities to encourage the fathers around you, starting with your own, and thank them for being the cornerstone of the family.  Since he’s gone I know how often I would have turned to Dad for advice or just to tell a story, and I understand our time to learn from and experience life with our fathers is precious and limited.  To Dads everywhere, thank you and Happy Father’s Day.