In honor of Father’s Day, I’m bringing back an oldie but a goodie (at least in my mind). I wrote this post about the struggle I imagine this generation of dads who are in the thick of parenting must feel 3 years ago. I had no intentions of republishing it, and in fact had quite forgotten about it. And then a few weeks ago, while reading the excellent book by Jennifer Senior on the paradox of modern parenting, All Joy and No Fun, I came across this thought from the author:
“This is a strange moment for fatherdom. There’s increasing pressure for men to be actively involved in the affairs of the home, but there’s no precise standard for how much involvement is enough. And if the standard is to do as much as their wives do … Lord, that bar is as high as a bird’s nest.”
That’s exactly what I had on my mind when I wrote this post. I re-read it, hoping that my words were outdated. Sadly, the only things that are outdated are the photos. (My babies!) The sentiment, and the struggle, still ring true. I know that I can be just as guilty for heaping the pressure and high expectations on to my husband as anyone, so I’m re-posting this as a reminder to myself to be kinder, gentler, and more appreciative of my husband and all he does. The dads that are always reaching for that bird’s nest need encouragement every day, of course, but Father’s Day is the perfect place to start.
I’m not sure why, but this Father’s Day has me reflecting on fatherhood for more than just the fleeting moment when I’m thinking of something profound to write in Mike or my dad’s cards. The holiday can seem like an afterthought in our house with the slew of celebrations that come before it and Mike’s general laid-back attitude about the day. In general, Father’s Day takes a back seat to Mother’s Day. Does it bother dads? I don’t know. But I have to wonder if their silence on the subject doesn’t reflect a larger issue:
It must be tough to be a father these days.
Now moms, I know some of you will roll your eyes at me and launch into a litany of reasons why it’s hard to be a mom, especially a mom to young children. And I don’t disagree. Though we’re in the golden years of parenting, some days are drop-dead exhausting. Mentally and physically exhausting. I’m always doubting myself, wondering if I’m doing it wrong or screwing them up. I’m spread thin, trying to be a good wife, mom, friend, daughter, employee, volunteer … and oh yes, take some time for me, too.
Yes, it’s hard for moms. But this is not only common knowledge, we’re encouraged to share our feelings. And then we’re encouraged even more to over-share our feelings through blogs, magazines and memoirs. Yes, it’s hard to be a mother, but we’re not alone.
I think about fathers like Mike and his peers. I wonder how his generation must struggle with fatherhood. Their fathers’ lives and expectations were so different. My dad didn’t change diapers or cook dinner. He didn’t drive me around or help me with my homework. He never shuttled me to school or packed my lunches while my mom went to blogging conferences or girls’ trips. I don’t fault him one bit for it – none of the dads I knew did these things.
And so these husbands of ours came into fatherhood with a road map that is vastly different from the landscape they find themselves navigating today. I think about the expectations I place on Mike as a father and husband. I expect that he will support us while I stay at home. I expect that he brings home a salary that allows us to live comfortably. I expect him to work hard, but not so hard that he isn’t home for dinner or to help put the kids to bed. I expect him to know his way around the kitchen and to help with chores around the house. I expect him to know our routine, to not play the bumbling fool of a dad when I go out of town. I expect him to play with the kids, help them with homework (at least math, Lord help me), volunteer at their sporting events, attend their school functions.
I think about the demands that life places on these fathers. That their careers are number one. That success means climbing the ladder and having fancy toys. That they should have man caves and fantasy teams, but dress like Justin Timberlake and know their manscaping from their landscaping (and dutifully tend to both). They should be totally present in their kids’ lives, woo their wives with creative date nights and handcrafted gifts from Etsy, have their dude time with friends, work out religiously, and work on average 20 hours more a week than our fathers worked. Yes, do all that and balance it ALL.
Our dads, man. They missed out on so many bonding experiences with us, but their lives were much less complicated.
I don’t have an answer. (Do I ever?) But I do know this: I’m here to tell the dads of my generation that I have tremendous respect for you. You’re doing so much more with much less time, and you do it enthusiastically. I see you at the swim meets and soccer matches. I see you in the school carpool line. I see you in the grocery store. I see you treading water and never, not once, calling for a life raft or telling the dad next to you that you’re getting tired. I know you’re exhausted and confused and yet simultaneously thrilled that you’re the kind of dad you are.
It’s okay to say that this gig is hard. Your wife won’t hate you or blow you off (wives, please don’t hate your husbands or blow them off). Your friends will be relieved. Believe me, it feels so much better to get it off your chest, hairy or not.
I also know this: we have to make fatherhood easier on our sons. In a way that I feel my generation of mothers has come to realize and accept without feeling defeated, we have to get the message across: that you can’t have it all and something always gives. And that’s okay. I want my son to enjoy fatherhood the way I enjoy motherhood, without being trapped by it or defined by it.
Happy Father’s Day, guys. You’ve earned it.