Father’s Day in my world has historically held all the importance that a birthday party holds for a Jehovah’s Witness.
In fact, it’s been such an epic non-event throughout my life that I actually forgot Sam’s very first Father’s Day. A pathetic, writhe-like-a-Redworm-in-fresh-manure move, I know. I hear your gasps and tsk-tsks and would like you to know that I already brutalized myself over the fact much more thoroughly than any practicing Jewish girl could.
Believe me, I got all Jewey on my own ass, so carry on with the guffaws. I can take it. I realize that I am, at times, a bad wife. I’m evil. Just be glad you’re not married to me.
My failings can probably be traced back to some father issue, although that doesn’t mean I can’t finally appreciate, revel in and, yes, even celebrate great fathering when I see it.
Take, for instance, the family I stalk in South Park. I drive past them nearly every morning on my way to drop Ruby off at “school.” He’s youngish, thin, computer-geek cute. He’s unshaven and semi-wrecked like most parents of young kids. His clothes are wrinkled and seem especially muted compared to the bright pinks and yellows worn by his children. He often wears a ball cap with his sunglasses. He always has a cup of coffee. He’s what I call Every Dad.
Bent a bit and maybe even resigned under the weight of parenthood, Every Dad pushes a gray stroller with an infant tucked inside. And there’s a little girl, too. Sometimes she’s walking next to Every Dad and other times she’s sitting on the handle bar of the stroller, her legs bent at the knees, feet balanced on the cup holder. Once in a while there’s another daughter, a slightly child accompanying the entourage, bumbling down the street, leading the parade of four, their nomadic speed determined entirely by the ability of the young ’uns to stay on task.
After months of voyeurism, my alter ego—Sherlocka Holmes—created an entire story about their lives: Following a noisy breakfast of animal-shaped pancakes, globs of syrup and gallons of organic, fresh-squeezed, unconditional love, Every Dad leaves the sticky dishes in the sink for later, loads up his posse and together, they chaperone the eldest child to school.
He kisses her good-bye at the door to her classroom. She might kiss him back or ignore him, depending on her mood.
He humbly takes both on the chin. Then he saunters his way back to their canyon-side home, where the rest of his chaotic day unfolds in a mess of finger-painting, cloud-busting and simplified explanations of why Simba can’t wake the “sleeping” Mufasa after Scar has pushed him from the cliff. Of course, during nap-time, there are always those dishes.
My window into their life is only a glimpse of the necessary and mundane parenting event of delivering a kid to school before the starting bell. What strikes me, though, is the ritual of this simple act and the reverberating effects. I can’t help but imagine what the middle daughter will one day remember of the time spent with Every Dad, riding atop the stroller, balanced between his hands, her uncombed hair stiff with cow licks and knots, watching the scene from her perch.
That guy is a madman with three, I think to myself. But he’s doing a bang-up job. And so are most of the dads I know. Fathers of previous generations—and certainly some in this one as well—were far less participatory than are the men around me.
While my father-in-law has a reputation of having been a Great Dad, he admits to never once changing a diaper.
Whenever he commiserates with me about the tribulations of parenting small children, my mother-in-law will chide him about how he couldn’t possibly know the difficulties since he was never around. “How would you know, Tommy?” she’ll ask with a wave of her hand and a roll of her eyes. He admits, readily, that he doesn’t actually have a clue.
My father was an Every Man For Himself Dad. I’m the product of a cinematic divorce in which my father left my mother and then, not too long after, left me as well. In reality, he was gone long before he went, but most memories of my cleaved childhood were obliterated in the wake of their mess.
But fathers today, even those who are sharing custody after a split, are as hands-on as any mother straight from the pages of Good Housekeeping circa 1952. Today’s Every Dad keeps decent hours at work and then serves as Sherpa during family outings, schlepping all the schleppables to wherever he’s been directed to schlep. He also does dishes. And laundry. And changes diapers.
These contemporary dads shop and cook and clean. Granted, they rarely comb hair. But they do wipe noses and asses, and I’ll take a clean butt over a pig-tail any day. They catch vomit and kiss boo-boos and give baths and read books and soothe nightmares. They nurture curiosity in our kids through the kind of mind-numbing creative play that some women find suffocating. And certain dads do this stuff without complaint while certain mothers go to book club and Bunco and San Francisco and DSW.
All of this isn’t to say, Wow! He deserves a gold star! Because this is the kind of stuff a parent—mothers and fathers—should do. But given that so many fathers haven’t or can’t or won’t or don’t, I think it’s entirely reasonable that the efforts by those who have and can and will and do be recognized once a year. Which is why Father’s Day for our babies’ daddies should not be about ties or new utensils for the grill or a shopping spree in the tool department at Sears. Those gifts are perfect for our dads—or, those of you who have them, anyway.
But in celebrating our men who step up to the greasy, oatmeal-smeared plate alongside us each day, the gift should be far more personal—something that screams I love the way you empty the diaper pail! This Father’s Day, give him the only gift that will keep him positively Pavlovian over playdates for a whole ’nother year and ensure forgiveness of even the most egregious omission.
Give him a little lip service.
Every Dad has earned it.