As Father’s Day is approaching, I wanted to write a post honoring fatherhood. Two years ago, I posted a piece in tribute to my own father. You can read it at http://www.terrilabonte.com/2016/06/the-first-man-i-remember/. In light of how much time I have spent on the concept of motherhood in the past, two years seems an inordinately long time to go without discussing fatherhood. Still, I seem to have way more difficult a time opining on the virtues of fathers than I do the virtues of mothers.
It isn’t that I think fathers are less important than mothers. I absolutely DON’T think that. All you have to do is read my June 2016 blog piece about my own father to know the value I place on dads. In fact, one of the reasons I am not a mother today is that my child would not have had a father in his/her life. When I was contemplating adopting a child, one of the reasons I decided against it was that I firmly believe that the optimum condition for raising a happy, healthy child includes having a loving mother and loving father. While a lot of people are great single parents and do a phenomenal job raising wonderful human beings, I think the odds are better when there are two people giving their all to the parenting process. I didn’t think I was strong enough to start out being a strike behind the count.
Maybe my difficulty in capturing the qualities of daddyhood has to do with the fact that I am a woman and my closest friends are also women. Parenting is such an intimate activity. I’m not sure I’ve ever have had enough “up-close-and-personal” opportunity to observe men being parents to define what made them good fathers. I just know that they are.
I don’t think I am the only one that has a hard time identifying the unique qualities of good dads. It isn’t fair, but I think we might tend to undervalue our fathers when compared to mothers. Even the language of parenthood is different, depending on gender. When we say the verb “mothering,” most of us visualize a lifetime of coziness and support… sometimes, even to a fault. Someone who “mothers” us is there over the long haul. “Fathering,” however, has a different connotation. Someone who “fathers” a child is there for the conception.
If I make a deliberate effort to identify what does make a good father, I think it comes down to action and service. Good fathers walk the walk of love. They fix things. They take care of their families. They do things for their families, even when that means sacrifice. The thing is, a really great father almost doesn’t think of it as a sacrifice because the pleasure they get from doing something to make their kids happy is more satisfying than the personal pleasure he gave up.
I don’t have a lot of memories of my paternal grandfather, but the ones I do have are burned in my very soul. He was an excellent purveyor of serving acts. He helped build an extension on the house where my parents lived so my maternal grandmother could move in with us. He made me a beautiful purple crib for my Christmas baby doll. My favorite color was purple and this was a time when people just didn’t make things in colors like purple. I remember a time when I was having a meltdown at age four because my best friend had flowers after a dance recital and I did not. No one could comfort me. The hugs and the kisses and the soft words were all very nice, but they did not address the problem. My grandpa fixed everything by taking me into his backyard garden, instructing me to take any of the flowers that I wanted. He followed in my wake, patiently clipping away at his carefully cultivated blooms as I identified the ones I wanted. He even found me a length of ribbon when I pointed out that Kathleen Murray’s bouquet had streamers on it.
My grandfather also raised a father with similar traits. My father was also a service action kind of guy. I do have some memories of touching conversations with my father, but I remember much more the things he did to keep me safe and happy. He worked hard physically so I could make a living with my brains instead of my back. His job was the way he paid for his life with his family and he took a lot of pleasure from the knowledge that he provided well for us. He taught me to ride a bike. He taught me to swing on the rings at the school playground. He taught me to drive a car. He refinished a lawyer friend’s dining room set as payment in barter for handling my divorce.
I know other great dads who embody those twin qualities of “action” and “service.” I know one father who built a skateboard half-pipe for his son in their relatively small backyard. I know one stepfather who transports his stepdaughter to bowling every week. That may not sound like a particularly noteworthy contribution, but it helps to know that the stepdaughter is over 40 years old and has a cognitive disability. The bowling and other activities to which her stepfather drives her provide her with social connection, confidence, and pleasure in a world that would be otherwise very limited for her. I know another father who goes to his daughter’s apartment when she is at work to take her puppy for a run every day so his daughter does not have to come home to a wildly energetic, out-of-control terrier. There are few things in life less relaxing than a wildly energetic, out-of-control terrier.
I’m sure there are many examples of fathers who act and serve. Sometimes, I think we take fathers for granted because these actions of service are often not dramatic or emotion-packed. Schmaltzy movies often depict parenthood as fraught with crucial conversations. These heart-to-heart talks are often filled with angst and life-changing declarations. I don’t know about everyone, but, if I had those kinds of experiences at all, they were with my mother and not my father. Yet, I can’t imagine how pallid and fractured my life would have been without my father.
Maybe fathers help us to do stuff rather than help us get through stuff. Or maybe, they help us get through stuff BY helping us do stuff!
What qualities do you think it takes to be a good father? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am aware that my posts about mothering and fathering tend to reflect gender stereotypes and that kind of bothers me, but I can only report on my own experiences and my own experiences of parenthood have tended to fall out along fairly traditional gender lines. I would love to hear from all of you and would be especially interested in hearing from folks whose experiences have shown them a different side of fatherhood than what I’ve experienced.
Have a wonderful Father’s Day!
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