Skip to content

Fatherly to Friend

I recently had the pleasure of attending the reception and ceremony naming the Amphitheater at the Gouge Performing Arts Center after former Auburn Mayor, Bill Ham, and his wife, Carol.  It is a fitting tribute honoring a couple that has done so much for Auburn, not just during their 20-year tenure as Mayor and First Lady but also in the time since Bill’s retirement.

Mary Lou and I met Bill and Carol soon after we moved to Auburn.  We also met the current Mayor, Ron Anders and his wife, Becky, about the same time.  At the reception, I had the pleasure of meeting the Mayor that preceded them both, Jan Dempsey. They all know that I was once a Mayor as well, though of a much smaller city.  Nevertheless, municipal problems and solutions are often the same no matter the size of the community.

Mayor Anders, in his remarks about former Mayor Ham, told of Bill’s transition with his children, as they moved from adolescents to adults.  He described that time as one of moving from a fatherly relationship with his children to one where he was more of a friend.  I immediately wrote it down on my program.

I remember so much about the connection with my own father when I was a child.  It was not always easy, mostly because I was just a typical know-it-all teenager.  I did not always like being a kid, in that parent-child dynamic, though I had a great childhood.  My father used to say that I was born old.   Perhaps he was right.

However, I loved our relationship when I became his friend, particularly as his adult son.  I went to work for his company after I graduated from college and was probably fortunate to be working just across the river in another state.   We were close enough to have lunch, but far enough away for me to gain experience, good and bad, on my own.  My Dad gave me enough rope to hang myself and then patiently guided me when needed before the noose got too tight.

I thrived on his increasing trust of me as I matured and loved when he asked my opinion about something, particularly when I realized that he seriously wanted to know what I thought.  That triggered a growing desire in my own life to question and learn from him.   I learned to value his opinion, not just as my parent, but as a trusted friend and mentor.

That might be the end of my own story, but I was blessed to see it play out again in the next generation.  I love my two daughters with every fiber of my being, but I also like them as adults.  Parents are always free to give their opinions to their children, probably too much so as time passes by.  How I love it when they occasionally ASK my opinion as adults.  

I do not think that I would ever wish to only be my children’s friend.  But I do recognize the different boundaries that exist as they raise their own children, build a life with their spouses, and work toward achieving their own goals.  

There exists a very special place that with some work, luck and love allows you to co-exist with your adult children as both their father and their friend.  I have become more of their friend, but I will always hold on to that bond of being their father.   You might call it the best of both worlds.   

The Bill and Carol Ham Amphitheater.  It is a fitting name honoring a well-deserving couple.   Congratulations, also, on being at that place where you can enjoy your children as adults.   Fatherly to Friends.  That may be the greatest honor of all.


Dan Ponder can be reached at


Leave a Comment