Friday, June 15, 2007

Hey Fadduh

This is my slightly early Ode to Fathers.

If you watch god-awful shows like According to Jim, Still Standing, Yes Dear or any of the other "funny" sitcoms about families you might get the impression that most fathers are fat shlumps married to far younger looking women, who themselves look too young to have teenagers. You might also get the impression that fathers are a bit useless, a bit shiftless, and certainly not required elements of the family. That's such a shame, because it absolutely misrepresents almost every father I know.

Don't get me wrong. Mothers work like dogs (don't I know). As evidenced by the fact that no men I know have ever been asked how they are going to balance having a career AND a family. It's assumed they're not; that the mom will have that side of things squared away, whether she is a full-time mom or a full-time professional. The daily stuff gets done (the stuff that no one notices until it's not done) because the mom gets it done. If the kid knows her alphabet by 2, people don't really say, "Wow. Her mom must really have worked with her on that; she must be super hands-on!" They say the kid is smart. Which she is. But she didn't find the alphabet on her own. Point being, moms do so much that goes unheralded.

And so do dads. But in my experience, the things dads do comprise a different set of necessary life skills. The Baby Daddy has taught the Bambina things I simply can't. He is more comfortable with letting her do (what I think are) risky physical games, like climbing to the very top of the highest ladder at the playground. He teaches her to be scrappy and confident in a way I can't, even though I think I am generally both those things. The battle between giving her physical confidence and my protective instincts are usually always won by the latter, and I thank God she has a man in her life who tells her she absolutely can and should climb that ladder as high as she wants to go.

He is able to get her to do things that, with me, turn into all-night hostage negotiations. I want her to understand there are things we do because we have to do them, end of story. He understands that sometimes you've got to change up your technique, and that it doesn't have to undermine the overall message. So where I would say, "for the tenth time, put on your jammies or we're going to bed right now without stories," he'll say, "I bet you can't put on your jammies before I pick a book and then start tickling you." Crisis averted. Mom stands down. Dad's way works better in this situation. And thank God she has someone who can see where she is emotionally and meet her there.

He is able to not worry about mundane stuff. Perhaps best summarized in this aphorism by Harmon Killebrew: My father used to play with my brother and me in the yard. Mother would come out and say, "You're tearing up the grass." "We're not raising grass," Dad would reply. "We're raising boys."

I'll spare you hundreds of additional examples of times where Dad knows best. But the real lesson here is that, in simply being a loving father, he is teaching Bambina a lot about herself, about how men should treat her, about how much she is loved. I know I teach her that too, but little girls need their fathers to bring that lesson home.

So, to the Baby Daddy, I say Happy Father's Day. Now more than ever, you are the World's Best Dada.

And now onto my Dad, who I miss every day. If I could sum up what I learned from him, it would probably be in this quote from Clementine Paddleford: “Never grow a wishbone, daughter, where you backbone ought to be.” He was the Dad who, like the Baby Daddy, told me to climb high, run fast, stand tall; certainly with words, but mostly with his actions. No matter how much we disagreed on things (which was a lot), I always knew he had my back. I always knew that the one man in the world who would always love me no matter what (although we disappointed each other, I'm sure, millions of times) was my Dad, and the psychic comfort that provided throughout my growing years is incalculable. He took my heartbreaks to heart, but never seriously enough to make me think they were insurmountable. When I called him in tears one day to tell him that my boyfriend and I had broken up, how terribly it had gone, how I was so hurt at things he said to me, my Dad made me feel both love and laughter when he said, "And I always thought he was such a nice laddie. Och well, I want you to call him up and tell him that I said he is an arsehole." I immediately started laughing through my tears, and decided that my Dad was the coolest guy on the planet. He gave me strength, dignity and faith in myself. Gifts that only a father can give to a daughter.

So to all the fathers (and father figures) out there, who aren't shiftless, useless shlumps, I salute you. For all the credit you don't get, for all the unseen burdens you bear (as in "A father carries pictures where his money used to be"), for all the ways in which you honor your kids--especially by loving their mother. Happy Father's Day.


Vigilante said...

Double thanks, E., for this Fathers' Day greeting as well as my B-Day card which I just discovered minutes ago! (Hugs!)

St said...

Well said. As usual.