Monday, June 16, 2008

Threatened Species: Dads

Another Father’s Day has come and gone, mostly unnoticed but for the retailers who want to sell you the latest novelty tie that Dad will never wear twice (if at all) or the latest battery-powered grill cleaning gadget that will be relegated to the bathroom for when his back really itches.

Men, in general, have been getting a bad rap in America for the past two-plus decades. Some of it well-deserved. Much of it not. In 1987, Hardenbrook wrote a book titled Missing in Action – Vanishing Manhood in America. Therein, he explained how the women’s rights movement and groups like NOW and science, have relegated men to the brink of irrelevancy. No longer are men perceived as a requirement for a “normal” nuclear family. No longer are men needed to father children – either literally or figuratively. Society actually embraces the concept of “my two moms” more than it ever seemed to embrace a mom and dad.

For years, with rare exception, when men are portrayed as fathers on TV, they are usually pot-bellied, bumbling buffoons out of touch with their children and their wives. There is a poignant juxtaposition between the likes of Cosby, Father Knows Best, Ozzy and Harriet, and The Simpsons, Married with Children, and According to Jim. Every now and then, the dad is allowed to “get it right” but most of the time, he is ahead to sit quietly on the sidelines while mom and the kids get along quite nicely without him.

From newspaper columnists to radio hosts, fathers took an absolute beating yesterday. Absentee dads. Dads who abandoned their families. Dads who shirk their responsibilities. Dads who create statistics that presumably inspire sitcom writers to perpetuate the myth. Heaven forbid that the tables ever be turned on the moms. Motherhood is held nearly as sacred as the Virgin Mary and Mother Teresa. No matter how many moms abuse their children, ignore their children, poor milk over the heads of their children, commit crimes and are incarcerated away from their children, motherhood is held above all else as the most “holy” of roles. Mothers vis-à-vis wives can unwittingly or otherwise bench their husbands and relegate them to the role of financier and chauffer and occasionally, sous chef when cooking with fire is needed. Yet, it is the dads who are vilified as soon as they say “ENOUGH!” It is the dads who lose their children, their home, and their self-esteem who then get beat senseless by the media, society, and pundits alike. It is the dads who spend fathers’ day, the most laughable of holidays, without their children, perhaps seeking secondary employment to meet the balance of their obligations.

Frankly, I don’t expect anything to change. Not as a result of this blog that will likely go unread. Nor because of any major societal revolution driven by dads and right-minded wives/moms alike who concur that the guys have gotten the short end of the stick. To the extent that I was able, I enjoyed my day in the company of the one I love (at home and church) and the dog. But it was also a day riddled with tears and ultimately enough wine to take the sharpest edge off the pain. But even that brought with it the realization that nothing changed. Tomorrow would be just like yesterday. I might get the requisite phone call from one of my children. Or I might not.

I wish my dad were still alive so at least I could wish him a Happy Father’s Day. He got it right – even though he sometimes got it wrong. The best that I could hope for now is that his heavenly father conveys the message on my behalf. I’m sure that sounds quaint to some and ignorant to others, but even this dad and son can still have hope. Hope that tomorrow WILL be better. Hope that I will be able to get it right. Hope that wives, women, and society will come to appreciate as a whole, that no matter how flawed we dads may be, we still have feelings. And while we may make mistakes we also try to make the best decisions we can – even if sometimes it’s the best bad decision available.

So, to all you dads who WANT to be dads to your kids: Happy Fathers Day. Stay in the race. Fight the good fight. To the women in our lives who want to help make that possible and feel our hurt when it is not: thank you.