Father’s Day is upon us: reflections on fatherhood
I think I’ve written about this before: what Father’s Day means to me and my family. Sadly, because it means so little, we had to have another discussion this past weekend about when we celebrate whom and why. I know, not very committed, right? In our defense, we’re still very new to this…I am a dad 365 days per year, but I’ve only been one for a good fourteen months.
Last week, I visited my own father. My dad is the quintessential straight male. Born into a conservative family in 1941, he left raising the kids to my mom. In fact, he worked so hard and so much that I have very few (less than a handful) memories of him actually stepping in. The only time he really got involved was when I hit my mom with a flute over the head (horrible child that I was, I know) in protest, wanting to play the piano instead. Rather than chastising me with a belt, as my mom had demanded, we talked. It worked wonders, and I was scared shitless. The second time he got involved was when my folks found out I am gay. He picked me up from school, and we talked. It was the worst conversation of my entire life. So, overall, as a parenting role model, my dad was not much to write home about: he never taught me how to shave and we never had the ‘talk’. Only recently, now that I’m forty-six, he told me the best way for a man to pee standing up. Thanks, Dad. TMI! Forty years ago, I might have appreciated the tip, but now? I’d still rather sit than go through public displays of you know who…
During my visit, the topic of parenting came up. As we talked, he suddenly blurted out just how proud he was of me and Alex and how we raise our son, so far his only grandchild.
I was deeply touched because, to be honest, I don’t reflect much on being a father anymore. I think most of you parents of toddlers can attest that they simply keep us too busy to spend much time thinking about anything. And when they’re not up and about, we are so tired that we tend to take naps whenever and wherever we get a chance, just to keep up with our most basic need of sleep.
I’m not even sure if I really do qualify as a good parent. I mean, I get upset with Sascha all the time, when he’s picking dirt from our potted plants, or when he insists on eating the sand on the playground rather than just playing with it, or when he opens our closet and pulls out all the shoes, throwing half of them downstairs. Or worst, when he goes after the cat food, putting some into his mouth and the rest into the water bowl. (Having a cat on a veterinary special diet is expensive enough, having to replace the bowl all the time…) I’m just saying, there are a lot of “don’ts” and “stay aways from that,” which in my mother tongue translates into a gazillion of “si lo’s!” (pronounced approximately ‘c lo’), a word I’m sure he understands perfectly well and quite masterfully chooses to ignore.
After my talk with Dad, and his unexpected compliment, I started to wonder what it was that made me such a great parent in his eyes. He didn’t really mention much apart form being there and being patient, and I guess that’s really it. We’re just there, we watch over our kids, we protect them, we’re there for them, we love them, we nurture them, and we do what every other parent does (you may read, “what every other mom does”). And I know plenty of straight dads who do the same. Times have changed – and they are changing – and I’m just being a parent.
When push comes to shove – when the pungent smell announces the need for an urgent diaper change, when our little ones trip over their feet and hurt, when they stretch out a finger to point at something full of questions, when they literally fall asleep on our shoulders – we parent, we change those diapers, we treat rashes, we blow on little wounds and make them go away with gigantic Band Aids, we answer questions with long answers as if we were taking a college test, and we hold our babies, rock them, kiss them, and make sure they sleep as gently as they can on our square and not very soft shoulders. And there is one thing that connects the dots between all of these selfless acts: love, unconditional love. And love knows no sexual orientation; love knows no gender. We’re all simply parents. I only wish that everyone could see it that way.
So, come Father’s Day this Sunday, I hope that I might get some time off, maybe sleep in an hour – catch up on some of that sleep I miss so much. This hope, of course, depends on my son’s inclination for where he wants to play. If he starts to play in his room, right above ours, I can forget about sleep. But maybe Alex will cook for me on Sunday and do laundry and the rest of my chores. Who knows? It would be nice to be acknowledged for the love we give, not because we expect recognition, but simply as a way of saying, “I appreciate and I see what you’re doing for me/us.” Come November, and Swedish Father’s Day, I’ll make sure to highlight Alex’s contribution as well.
With that, I wish you all a very happy Father’s Day, and on behalf of all of our kids: thank you! Keep up the good work you all do.