Saturday, June 20, 2009

From your absent father to you on Father's Day

I was reading an article on fatherhood in the Wall Street Journal (subscription required) about gate keeping mothers preventing fathers from doing their jobs as fathers by deciding when and when not to allow dads to be dads. I was fairly well impressed that someone had thought to take a different approach in the big annual run up to father's day (Come Monday we will be back to nobody giving a good goddamn about father's and fatherhood, but I digress). Then I started reading the comments section which had a decidedly negative perspective on the article.

My first impression was that maybe the commentators were self satisfied fathers who just didn't get it. These were people who felt they had fulfilled their fatherhood responsibilities and didn't need anybody telling them how to be a father. As I continue to think about it, I am beginning to recognize that maybe that's the point.

Over the years I become more and more disillusioned with the concept of father's day, as it seems to have become nothing more than a vehicle of the M.I.C. (Motherhood Industrial Complex) which is used to berate men who don't measure up to the arbitrary standards they have imposed upon us. Essentially, the day functions as an opportunity to make a list of all the stuff that men need to do. Fathers have lost control of the very day supposedly set aside to honor them. The M.I.C. has convinced the world that we should use this occasion to detail all of the things that are wrong with fathers. Mother's day is a celebration of motherhood, as it should be. Why isn't father's day a celebration of fathers. Why is the focus on the mistakes and missteps. Come next mother's day, I am going to keep count of all the articles that tell young single mothers that you should have kept your legs closed until you got your act together. Or if you are poor you are an unfit mother. Because these are exactly the messages that fathers are subjected to on their "day of honor".

This is a symptom that is representative of fatherhood in general. The self assured mothers and mothers in law and list makers and pundits are all telling us what to do and who to be. They even line up an errant prodigal father who, after 20 years of absence, is now the reigning expert on what fathers ought do. Somehow we have merged the role of father with the role of husband. Maybe this was accurate back in the days of Ozzie and Harriet or Ward and June Cleaver, but the sexual revolution of the 60's produced the "baby daddy" of the 70's. The Husband and the father have been unequivocally bifurcated.

Husbands better do as they are told if they want to have a peaceful home. Fathers are not necessarily a part of the home. We are warriors and protectors of children who may or may not live under our roof. Being a father to the children of your baby mama from across town increases the difficulty factor exponentially. And sometimes being absent from your child is the best way we know how to protect that child. Understood, this don't feed the bulldog, but sometimes that's all we got. And truth be told, fathers who are not absent are not all that present anyway. Yeah, the body is present but the spirit is on the job, or at the golf course or caught up with the sports team or worse yet in the bottle.

It is very difficult to live in the small space that is left open by the M.I.C. You should wear this, and do that and pay this and bring that and and and... We have been contorted into this made for TV version of what a father ought to be. And what's worse, we have convinced our kids of this crap. If we don't go out back and play catch with the little boys they feel deprived. If we don't suit up and attend the daddy daughter dance little girls don't feel they are getting enough of their daddy's love. And God help your monkey ass if you come up short on a court ordered child support payment or two.

So if you want to encourage fatherhood then sit quietly and let us tell you what it means to be a father. Unless you are a father you cannot possibly know what it means. So let us tell you what it means to walk into a hospital natal ward hard and tough on the outside but a quivering mass of fear on the inside. Let us tell you what it means to come up short on Christmas presents. Let us tell you what its like to try to teach a child the things nobody ever taught you. Let us tell you what its like to look into the eyes of your newborn and know you are not ready for this.

We don't celebrate "Actively Engaged Father's Day" we celebrate "Father's day". Whether by birth or by adoption, still living or dead and gone fathers should be honored simply for existing, in the flesh or only in memory, warts and all. Of course we should talk about all those other things that need to be done. Children need food , clothes, homes and yes somebody to play catch with them or take them to the daddy daughter dance. But maybe that can wait until Monday.

There is an old philosophical question about whether a tree falling in the woods makes a sound if nobody is there to hear it.

Can you hear me now?

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