I know Father’s Day was practically ages ago, but we have had a lot going on since then. Plus, in my family, since my Dad’s birthday is in July, we usually celebrate him more then, or kind of just intermittently during several weekends in the Summer when we can all get together. Anyway, I do want to give dads their proper praise, so here goes.
On Father’s Day, we did manage to get together and I had a great time celebrating my Dad and my husband, both wonderful fathers. My Dad wanted to go fishing, like he pretty much always does, so we all went to the beach and spent the day in the sun. It was wonderful.
It brought to mind to me the question of what it means to be a father and how our fathers teach us to parent even if we aren’t fathers (that is to say, if we are those other things called mothers).
It began because I was thinking a bit about those people who are raised by single parents. In society, when we talk about single parents we say that they are “taking on both roles.” We also often refer to the man in a child’s life as his or her “father figure” (put your tiny hand in mine?). But what really is the difference between the role of a mother and the role of a father? I mean, it’s not the fifties anymore, so gone are the days of mothers waiting in kitchens for disciplinarian dads to arrive and put rules into place. Those days are gone, right? Oh, I hope so.
I think we are mistaken when we talk of single parents as the only ones who take on both sets of qualities, though, because a huge percentage of those qualities which we adopt for ourselves come from our own parents, male or female, gentle or disciplinary, protective or dismissive. It is for this reason that I believe it behooves mothers to learn from both their mothers and their fathers as they become who they are as parents over time. And here I don’t mean just to begrudgingly accept that we are going to be like our mothers and fathers in ways we wouldn’t have predicted, but to embrace those similarities and cherry-pick the ones we would like to cement long-term. So, perhaps, in some Darwinian way, we parents can become better parents than those who came before us, and our kids can be better still.
So that leads me to my own father. He is one of the most kind, dedicated, and personable people I’ve ever known. He is the kind of guy who always knows what to say and can pretty much talk to anyone at a party with ease. And he enjoys talking to other people (in fact, I think that’s a big part of why he is so good at his job, which is selling really nice cars to people who probably ask annoying questions all day). He isn’t the kind of salesman you hate because he also listens, which is just as important, if not all the more. I like to think he gave me some of that personality, because on occasion, I can be a real hoot! (Does telling people you are a hoot make you dramatically less of a hoot?)
My dad is not only kind to others, but he is also very enthusiastic. He made my brother, my sister, and I feel like we were just the best things God had ever created. When we learned new things he would always share in them with us with equal or more zeal. In doing this, he would make us feel like we were the first people on Earth to be good at these things, which instilled in us the confidence necessary to take on whatever was to come. Sometimes there was some overconfidence, of course, but kids are like that. I remember when my Dad made me feel so special for taking a gifted exam in Maths in middle school that I honestly thought I might have been the best sixth grade Math student of all time anywhere. And while I later found out that that wasn’t true, I did end up getting a degree in Math, so I am thankful that he was around to keep me going at it.
But more than his kindness, his personality, and his enthusiasm, I would like to bring to my family something all the more imperative. That is, in a word, fun.
My dad is just a fun guy. He always encouraged us to enjoy ourselves, whether that meant having friends over for elaborate birthday parties, picking out tons of junk food at the grocery store, or spending hours every Sunday afternoon playing kickball in the yard. We had fun. And tons of it. Whenever we developed new interests he would join in with us. I’m thinking of the days when he turned our first floor into a Nerf gun war zone, built skateboard ramps for us during our x-treme sports phase, or turned our yard into a badminton court when I developed a mild obsession with the sport. He somehow even made chores fun, by singing songs or making games out of them. I think this might be the most important thing he gave (and continues to give) to me, and I truly hope to bring this fun to my family in the future.
My dad’s qualities are so important to me, and I don’t think they were dependent on him being the “dad.” Those qualities are thing he just inherently has and offers to the world. Would adopting those qualities mean I was working twice as hard and taking on the fathering role as well? No, not at all. It would mean I was trying to be the best parent I could be.
So let’s be the best moms we can be and learn from our dads too. Because parenting is always many roles and never simple, no matter how many parents there are. And that’s part of what makes it so great.