On Fathers

Today’s dad is supposed to be cool, smart, tough, and sensitive, a tall order even for a superhero. There’s so much material out there that’s supposed to show us what a perfect dad is supposed to be like, our own fathers couldn’t possibly measure up. How could one ever stop comparing the real with the ideal?

In this day and age it has become easier to start discounting the role of the father. More and more, it has become easier to accept that dad no longer has the final say, or is not the sole breadwinner anymore, or that he has lost the exclusive rights to sitting at the head of the table. And some folks would say that that’s progress. Now that the modern world is no longer supposed to discriminate against age, gender, or civil status, being a man who has fathered children may not be something that is as celebrated or honored as before. Dads just don’t get as many breaks as they used to.

But in this brave new world, with its level playing fields and broken glass ceilings, dad still manages to get by. Despite the change in rules, dads still come fortified with the same equipment. Compared to bachelors, fathers arguably posses a deeper reserve of what we might call “man-strength”. This is the strength that comes from being prepared to risk everything for the safety of his wife and children. Even if it takes him away from his home or his comfort zone, and makes him a slave or a fool, there’s an urgency, a driving force within every man that makes him strive to provide for his family. It’s what urges him to fix the car or deal with the plumbing, what makes him want a better life for you than what he had for himself. For sure, the world has its fair share of deadbeats, but as far as most families are concerned, their dad will always try to be a guiding hand, a solid pillar to lean on, the man who is always thinking of their comfort, but also keeps trying to push their limits.

Regarding fathers, there seems to be an imbalance in the entertainment world. On TV, there’s an overload of sitcoms focusing on wacky dads, single dads, or wacky single dads. In animated films, whether produced by Disney or others, the protagonists generally have a bumbling but doting father figure present. The wealthy and attractive widower or divorcee has been a staple character from “The Sound of Music” to “Who Wants To Marry My Dad?”. Moms aren’t quite as well represented. Which is maybe why Mother’s Day is an exponentially bigger deal, commerce-wise. It’s the world’s way of making up to mom. Father’s day is almost like an afterthought.

So what should we do to honor 21st century dad? Stereotypes aside, most dads prefer being really low-key about and wouldn’t mind having Father’s day as a completely understated affair. So they’d expect less flowers and more socks, less cake and more scotch, less kisses and more handshakes. But it doesn’t really matter what you give, but what you share. It doesn’t take a card or a present, words and touch work just as well. Just this once, you should forgive and forget his silly and embarrassing moments. He’s your father, the guy who had to court your mom and confront your grandparents, so he has a right to be sappy and corny, and for at least one day you should be too. Every man could use a hug and a compliment – your brother, your friend, and maybe even the Pope. As long as you put in a lot of warmth, and a lot of love, just a hug will make your dad feel like the most important man in the world.

-text by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved. first published in 2005

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