The wis­dom of a fa­ther who’s suf­fered

Cecil Whig - - OPINION - Ruben Navarette Jr.

— Wis­dom is born of suf­fer­ing. It comes from what the Greek play­wright Aeschy­lus called “pain that can­not for­get,” the tri­als that trans­form wretched souls into bet­ter peo­ple “through the aw­ful grace of God.”

There is noth­ing more aw­ful, more cruel or more un­nat­u­ral than a par­ent bury­ing a son or daugh­ter. It’s a wound that never heals.

So it was that I found my­self spend­ing the lead- up to Fa­ther’s Day thinking about a wise man I met re­cently with strong opin­ions on child- rear­ing.

Who bet­ter to ex­plain the mean­ing of fa­ther­hood than the dad of a dead Ma­rine?

Socrates Peter Manoukian is a Santa Clara County Su­pe­rior Court judge. With fa­ther­hood weigh­ing on my mind, I called him up and asked for his thoughts about the one thing that mat­ters most to him: fam­ily.

“You know, there’s that old say­ing,” he said. “Any man can be a fa­ther but it takes a real man to be a Daddy.”

This is go­ing to be a tough in­ter­view, I think to my­self at this point as my eyes well up with tears.

As he warms up, Manoukian men­tions how ev­ery fa­ther should lis­ten to and take to heart Harry Chapin’s clas­sic 1974 folk song “Cat’s in the Cra­dle” about a fa­ther who was too busy for his son un­til one day when his son was too busy for him.

The judge re­called the years he spent in ju­ve­nile court where peo­ple came be­fore him who could have had bet­ter lives if they’d had bet­ter par­ents. Then there was the stint in fam­ily court, where par­ents fight­ing over cus­tody of their kids some­times stooped to mak­ing false al­le­ga­tions of child abuse to hurt their for­mer spouse.

Born in Le­banon to par­ents of Ar­me­nian an­ces­try, Manoukian ex­plained that both of his par­ents grew up with­out fa­thers — one of them felled by can­cer, the other by geno­ci­dal Turks.

Manoukian’s fa­ther, who was born in Syria, started out a car­pen­ter and soc­cer player and wound up a doc­tor who spoke five lan­guages and served as an in­ter­preter for the Bri­tish army.

When I asked Manoukian what his fa­ther taught him about be­ing a dad, he rat­tled off a list: “Take care of your kids. But don’t spoil them. Make sure they go to work and go to school. Make sure they take up


hon­or­able sions.” Like what? I asked. “Priests or teach­ers,” he said. “He used to say that one holds the book of God, the other the book of knowl­edge.”

On the day he grad­u­ated from law school, Manoukian re­called, his fa­ther lit­er­ally punched him in the gut and he gave him march­ing orders: “Your job is not to make as much money as you can; it’s to do good things for peo­ple.”

Manoukian and his wife, Pa­tri­cia, who is an ap­pel­late court judge, were blessed with three sons: Michael, an at­tor­ney; Martin, who en­rolled in med­i­cal school be­fore join­ing the Navy; and Matt, the Ma­rine.

While the boys were grow­ing up, Manoukian was still a lawyer work­ing long hours and he missed a lot of school ac­tiv­i­ties. He made a change. Sud­denly, he was coach­ing soc­cer games.

When I told him that I’m strug­gling to find a bal­ance be­tween be­ing too strict or too le­nient, he ad­vised: “You’re bet­ter off be­ing too strict. If you’re go­ing to make a mis­take, make it in that di­rec­tion.”

Af­ter grad­u­at­ing from col­lege, Matt joined the Marines, com­pleted Of­fi­cer Can­di­date School and in­fantry train­ing, and served his first de­ploy­ment in Iraq as a pla­toon com­man­der. He rose to the rank of cap­tain and be­came what his com­rades- in- arms call “a ma­rine’s ma­rine.” Whether in a fire­fight, or on pa­trol, he pro­tected his men by be­ing the first into harm’s way.

Matt later did two tours in Afghanistan with spe­cial ops. Sadly, he didn’t com­plete his sec­ond. He was killed by a rogue Afghan po­lice­man in Au­gust 2012 as he wres­tled the at­tacker to the ground in de­fense of fel­low Marines. For his hero­ism, Matt was posthu­mously awarded the Navy Cross, the na­tion’s sec­ond- high­est medal for valor in com­bat.

“To say I’m proud of him doesn’t quite cap­ture it,” Manoukian said, chok­ing up. “I’m proud of all my boys and what they’ve done with their lives.”

This Amer­i­can fam­ily has come a long way, and it has paid a heavy price for the trip. No one knows that bet­ter than a cer­tain judge who, while al­ready an im­mi­grant suc­cess story, wanted sim­ply to be a good dad — and pulled it off.

Ruben Navarette Jr. is a syn­di­cated colum­nist from the Washington Post. pro­fes-

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