Where I’m from, we don’t tend to honor fathers. It’s the horrible truth, but fathers way too often tend to be missing. Or uninvolved. Or recklessly authoritarian – to the point that the children don’t know how to behave. Afraid of him. And yet, for a period at least, and maybe for very long, always seeking that eternally elusive approval.
My own father was like that. Not always. Once a week when we were younger, a friend would come over and bring his son, about our ages. They’d drink and shoot the breeze. And then the seven of us would play wrestle. Bodies thrown all over the place. That was exhilarating. I looked forward to that time, some of the happiest of my childhood – maybe my life. Wild, uninhibited, in-the-present fun with my dad and brothers. The kind of stuff I like to do with my own daughter now.
But then came the big Let-Down. The alcohol seeped through his system and as soon as his friend left, he became the tyrant again. Demanding, yelling, screaming. Whatever leniency, whatever reprieve, whatever joy disappeared.
Of course I know people who had worse treatment, who never caught a moment of joy. Whose fathers not just whooped them on the fanny, but in their faces. Friends who never or briefly met their fathers because:
- Papa was a rolling stone
- He knocked up mom, but didn’t know
- He knocked up mom, but did know and didn’t want anything to do with it
- He was forced out (for any number of reasons)
- He died
- He was locked-up/deported/deployed
- He had another family
- She took and hid them (for any number of reasons)
- He’d rarely visit
So you can see why many of us have difficulties with Father’s Day.
Guilt. Shame. Embarrassment. Anxiety. Depression. Confusion. Alienation. Loneliness. Abandonment.
A good friend in a conservative church told me that she could not use “Father” language to describe God because of her own personal experiences with her dad. How could she trust God if he were linked to her father. Many of my youth had similar experiences, and flinched when I used that term. God as Father didn’t seem so protective, so present, so attractive, so playful to them.
I have many wonderful male friends who work to be wonderful to their children despite the lack of experience. We struggle and we try to encourage each other. The scary parts – they’ve helped me with those really confusing and scary moments any first-time n00b parent goes through. They’d reassure me that everything is all right. Little girls sometimes cut their hairs out, different kids have different sleeping habits, the grandparents will grandparent the kids. All that.
Last year at this time I lived in a neighborhood in Chicago’s West Side. I don’t tend to talk on the streets, and in Chicago unless you know each other you don’t either. Additionally, the neighborhood I was living in is full of such caveats as mentioned before. But I noticed that this morning, there was just a vibrancy among the men. Though I’m divorced and live apart from my daughter, the sight of me and the smile I have when I’d bring my little darling home is hard to avoid. The way we play, the way I’d nudge her to get a move on. The unmistakable frustration. The carrying of her on my shoulders. Our mutual joy. But I’m not the only father who loves his role as father, who takes a special pride in the work of parenting as an identified male. This warm June morning, I saw that in ample proud display. I was greeted by half a dozen beaming, proud men, “Happy Father’s Day!”
And they meant it.
So while I want to be as inclusive as possible and recognize the work of the mothers who do both jobs, of the alternative fathers and extra fathers; of all the men and women who invest strongly in the lives of children whether or not they have a legal or biological obligation, I want to especially honor those male parents who do the work of being a father every day. Because at least we’re I’m from, it’s not expected (and yes, there are reasons for that).
Sure, our children are our reward. Raising them gives a sense of purpose. And we don’t need no stinking Hallmark to tell us what we do is good. But feeling good once in a while about this role and knowing that we’re not alone in this process helps.