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Ode to Fathers

I was recently shopping at Target for garbage bags, Play Doh and “feminine protection products” (Exactly what are we being protected from? Who is being protected?  But I digress…..)   and on my way to the cash registers I saw a large display of Father’s Day cards.  How convenient!  I figured that I would easily be able to snatch up some lovely and thoughtful cards for all the Daddies in my life.  The first one I picked up was from the “humorous” section and it had a picture of an overweight man with an exposed belly and a dripping beer can in his hand.  The overt message of the card was that the recipient deserved a day to just sit on his butt and drink this beer due to his (On all other days but this one?) magnificent role as DAD.  The undertone of the card was that the recipient was lazy and had questionable hygiene and probably spent a lot of days on the couch with a beer in one hand and clothes that didn’t fit quite right.  So, actually, not that magnificent of a Dad at all.  The next 15-or so cards that I picked up didn’t get much better. One card even made a farting noise when you opened it!   The general idea is that American fathers are golf playing, beer guzzling, lazy, farting and/or fart joke telling, overweight, fishermen with somewhat questionable parenting skills, but who mean really well.  I was embarrassed for the state of fatherhood and my quick stop for cards turned into a rather lengthy exploration of what these cards reflected in terms of our expectations for fathers and the ways in which we feel it is appropriate to thank them.

Considering the fact that over 21 million American children are being raised in single parent homes and over 84% of these single-parent homes are being facilitated by mothers, it seems that having someone to buy a father’s day card for has become somewhat unique.  To summarize, 26% of American children do not have regular contact with their fathers.  From the cards on display, it would also appear that the fathers who do stick around, are fools. Perhaps, even worse than fools.  These are unkempt fools who like to golf.  Today, I received a promotional e-mail from Organic Bouquet that offered 15% off their selection of Father’s Day gift section.  The gift section included some very expensive items like an olive tree, bonsai and a wall hanging of a brown fish that said “GONE FISHING.”  The less expensive items were cookies in the shape of backyard barbecue foods.  The discount could not be applied to any of the beautiful flower arrangements that this company offered for sale.  No, the discount was on this ridiculous selection of man-gifts—-over-priced olive trees and hot dog shaped cookies.

Can you imagine?  “Here honey, give this olive tree to Daddy—yes, he’s on the couch where he always is—-and, include this card of the fat man that makes a farting noise when you open it.  He’s just going to be so happy!”

Honestly, if this is fatherhood, is it really a club you want to belong to?  Sounds to me like a job with low expectations and no benefits.  As a society, we need to re-imagine fatherhood so that it is a role that men can see themselves playing and that we aren’t embarrassed to ask them to play.  In my role, facilitating Dynamic Childbirth workshops—–yoga-based childbirth preparation workshops for pregnant women and their birth partners—I meet a lot of men who want to be great partners and great fathers.  As a matter of fact, I know that many of them ARE great fathers and are part of a movement to re-define fatherhood.  Do some of them fish?  Yes, they absolutely do!  Do some of them drink beer, watch tv, play golf and occasionally make poor fashion choices?  Yes, they absolutely do!  Is this what defines them?  No, absolutely not.

These fathers support their partners in pregnancy and childbirth.  These fathers cook all the meals so mom can breastfeed all day and all night.  These fathers wear their babies and sing them to sleep at night and know where the band-aids are and the pediatrician’s phone number.  These fathers wake up at 2:00am and rush feverish babies with croup to the emergency room.  These fathers teach their daughters how to go down the slide feet first and push their sons on the swing.  These are fathers who share themselves and their interests with their children by taking them camping, to their favorite farmer’s market and the record store.  These fathers play musical instruments, have a love of film, poetry, good books or an interest in horror movies—–whatever it is, they are interested in something and they show their children what is possible in the world from a different perspective from their partner.  These fathers show their children that compassion, responsibility and generosity are excellent qualities in a man.

So, I’d like to thank my father for giving me the gift of music, adventure and for always making sure that I had the tools of the trade—a Swiss Army Knife, comfortable shoes and a calling card.  And, after my son was born, thank you to my father for bringing food by every night so I didn’t have to worry about making meals.  Thank you to my step-father for learning how to defrost breast milk.  Thank you to my grandfather for loving my grandma so very much and making your children and family a priority.  Thank you for being the one who didn’t mind if I wore tops that didn’t match my bottoms, for not liking my boyfriend, for helping me move in and out of countless apartments and college dorms and for picking me up from that party in the middle of the night because my ride was drunk and never, never, ever saying anything about it.

Thank you to all the fathers out there who we would be embarrassed to give these silly cards to.  This Father’s Day, let’s forget the olive tree and the ridiculously-shaped cookies and make our own cards.  Let’s create an Ode to Fathers that reflects their true gifts and the sacrifices and commitments that they make to be great Dads.  May our collective Ode be a part of a revision of American fatherhood that is inspiring and meaningful.

References:
United States. Census Department. Custodial Mothers and Fathers and Their Child Support: 2007. By Timothy S. Grall. Census, 2009. 26 Feb. 2010 [http://www.census.gov/prod/2009pubs/p60-237.pdf].

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