I know I may not be in the majority when I say that I think dads get a raw deal. I grew up with an amazing dad and I (not unrelated) have dreamed of being a father at least as much as I have dreamed of personal and professional successes, both of which are not true for everybody.
But I toggle between sadness, disappointment, and anger at the way we talk about dads in our culture. We have adopted, hook-line-sinker, the image of dads as Homer-Simpson-esque idiots (just about every television dad plays this role) or the absent/abusive/neglecting workaholic who doesn’t care about anything other than affairs with his secretary and the corner office.
I say all of this because with Fathers Day approaching, it is not enough for us to take a cute and cuddly break to obligatorily thank dads for giving it there best shot (bless their stupid hearts). We need to do a better job of celebrating dads. And here is why.
Men have a deep desire to be dads. We have a deep desire to love and care, to serve our families, to be empathetic and helpful. Dads want to be good dads. Even boys who are not yet dads want to be good dads.
But we live in a world where male privilege and toxic masculinity silence the best in us. Men are afraid to speak up, unskilled at vulnerability, and sometimes feel like aliens inside themselves because they are constantly told a) the strong survive and b) the strong abuse. Since men feel afraid and insecure, these narratives are like anvils heaped on their shoulders, heavy and ever-present. And they have no idea what to do with them.
The core fear of any man is the fear of rejection. And men are constantly rejected as dads – labeled as buffoons and weaklings and then as domineering and patriarchal when they try to compensate. Men feel crippled and do not know what to do. The narratives become self-fulfilling as they are reinforced.
Deep down, men want to be dads. They want to help. They are trying to help. They want to love and are trying to figure out how to be strong and caring at the same time. My own dad, for example, cannot say a prayer at our family gatherings without breaking into tears. He almost never cries outside of that, at least that I see. But he is overcome with his desire, his appreciation, his care. He cannot contain (or express) how much he desires to be a dad and how much it means to him.
Dads are Capable
See the above story of my dad.
Look, dads are different than moms. They just are. I’m not talking about traditional gender roles and I realize the dangers of generalities, but there is something different about dads. Boys need them. Girls need them. Scientific research shows that children with active dads are better equipped for life as an adult. Just as moms are capable, so are dads.
We need dads. Just like we need moms. Dads are firm, playful, adventurous, risk-taking. They are wise, caring, compassionate. They promote a sense of belonging, safety, and worth.
Our world is experiencing a real crisis of male leadership in the family. This is not an indictment on the male species and their ability/willingness to parent, but a referendum on the cultural perspective that has shaped societal norms.
Celebrating dads for what they are worth is the key to rescuing the crisis of fatherlessness in our society. It is not to shame dads, to give up or make due without them. It is to awaken what we have ignored in them, what they themselves have ignored. The calling on their lives to love.