Jon Magidsohn wonders if it’s possible to capture fatherhood with a camera.
Amid the recent reportage about ground-breaking discoveries and celebrity derrieres published on the Huffington Post, this little photo gallery appeared, showing, as the headline promised, ‘31 Candid Photos That Sum Up What Fatherhood Looks Like’.
Against my better judgement I clicked open the article and scrolled down through the photos waiting for the foreshadowed ‘summing-up’. It was, as expected, a parade of doting dads indulging, fawning over or otherwise finding a happy place with their kids. There was Dad diligently assembling his children’s new toys as they sat obliviously at the dining room table; another showed Dad letting his boys strum his prized guitar as the child-sized version was ignored behind him; there were the inevitable pile-on photos, Dads doing ‘girly things’ and lots and lots of sleeping pictures.
These are all wonderful fathers, I have no doubt. That their spouses took the time to photograph them being the best dads they could possibly be proves that they are loved and appreciated beyond mere words. What more could these kids ask for? I, too, let my son ride me like a pony when he was that small, so I get it.
But these photos offered me no conclusions about fatherhood. There was no summing-up at all. It was just a collection of tiny glimpses into the lives of others and should only be seen as such. Every father’s understanding of fatherhood is different because every father is different. I should have known before I clicked that the likelihood of seeing what ‘fatherhood looks like’ was slim.
Because fatherhood doesn’t look like anything. The truth about fatherhood, as I see it, is not something that can be photographed.
Fatherhood is about the delicately-crafted relationship between parent and child, equally as important but different to a mother’s bond. It’s about discovering who they are as people, recognizing everything you love and hate about them. It’s about witnessing your child achieving things they’d never done before. It’s about learning to accept that they will be their own person, not the one you want them to be. It’s about letting them have their own childhood, not yours.
How do you photograph these things?
Fatherhood means struggling to do what is deemed most beneficial for your child, despite every instinct to run away. It means wondering and worrying about your ability to offer them what they need; about showing your love for them in ways they might not recognize until decades later. It means extending your vulnerability to lengths you didn’t think were possible; finding joy in their joy, being sad at their anguish.
There is no app for those.
Fatherhood highlights your failures in ways that no amount of clumsiness can. With every mistake – as with every success – you witness the direct effect you have on your child’s progress. You can see it in their eyes, sense it in their disappointment. Fatherhood explains consequences.
My camera can’t capture this.
Fatherhood is a mystifying state of mind that is born at the same instant as your child. It comes with the knowledge that you’ve contributed to creating something that will depend on your input for years to come, a lifetime maybe. You are benevolent and helpless at the same time. It is a calling without a job description. That notion, whether you’ve sired, adopted or fostered a child, is never lost.
If fatherhood ‘looks like anything’, surely it can’t be seen with the naked eye. It’s an invisible force to which all fathers innately and helplessly subscribe. To try to sum-up fatherhood in a single gallery of photos, each taken of a genuinely cherished moment, would be to negate every other moment not caught on camera.
And what about turning the lens the other way? What is Dad getting in return? Is there a gallery for that? How can you identify the path of a father when you’re only looking down a one-way street? Or as Wordsworth wrote in Anecdote for Fathers:
‘Could I but teach the hundredth part
Of what from thee I learn.’
Parenting requires behaviour and skills that go beyond assembling toys and strapping on a Baby Bjorn. The Huff people are not alone in fostering these stereotypical representations. Don’t let parenting magazines and hyperbolic online journals tell you what the paradigm is. Because there isn’t one.
My experience is different from yours is different from your neighbour’s. Sometimes just being there sums it up best.
Photo: With Associates/Flickr
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