How a Cancer-Stricken Dad Chose a Council of Successors

A cancer-stricken dad chooses his 'council' of successors--and rediscovers friendships along the way

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Gerard Dubois for TIME

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This was once the province of godparents: in Renaissance-era Florence, a child could have a dozen of them--an extended family of providers and protectors. But since then, the role has evolved from spiritual mentor to social fixer. In some ZIP codes, preschool admissions officers find they get a lot of requests to serve, and Hallmark now makes a couple dozen Christmas-card designs for godparents to send, which is a sure sign the relationship has lost much of its meaning. "Always a godfather, never a god," lamented the much recruited author Gore Vidal.

Hillary Clinton said it takes a village, and she was mocked, but she was right. Is there any greater gift we can give our children than to be loved and lifted by as many adults as possible, beyond immediate family? Single and divorced parents do this informally all the time. Feiler, whose latest tests show him to be, for now, cancer-free, is working with the National Fatherhood Initiative, which has kiosks in 1,500 military bases around the world. The plan is to distribute literature about The Council of Dads and invite soldiers to convene their own; these are men and women who live with mortality and separation.

But maybe it's an exercise for everyone, not just in parenting, but in friendship and self-discovery. I'd like my daughters to have a Council of Dads, a Council of Moms--not, God willing, to replace my husband or me, but to remind us which values we value most, and help us make sure we transmit them.

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