Beyond the cliches of: “It’s a day to honor your dad” and “Every day is Father’s Day in my book,” what is this day really for?
I don’t care what you think other people say today is about. I want to know the purpose that Father’s Day serves for YOU.
For me, the father I want to become has shifted from a negative (not like that) to a positive target. Father’s Day has shifted from a day to pamper the patriarch to a pause in the race. For me, Father’s Day is a moment to acknowledge that dads have traveled another mile down a newly built road.
Father’s Day gives me a reason to reach out to the dads in my circle and family for a knowing glance, a moment of recognition. Today I will tell my brother-in-law “Happy Father’s Day,” but it means much more. We dads don’t easily reach out to each other for support but this day gives me a reason to say, “I see you over there.”
I know you strive to be a “good dad.” I know you are doing it differently from the way you were raised. I know you are showing greater respect toward women, modeling what it means to be a man for your sons, and raising daughters to speak up for their rights and place in the world. I see you taking an active role in the daily tasks of raising your kids and keeping your house going. Most of all, I know that you are making this up as you go along. None of us had models for what we are becoming.
Modern fatherhood has opened up so much in the generation since I grew up. We are learning to express and process our feelings. We are learning to do that in front of our kids. We are active participants in our family’s daily life. As a result, masculinity has evolved over the last few generations from a misguided model of stoicism full of aggression and repressed feelings. That approach to manhood makes us sick, isolates us from the love we want, and distances us from our partners and our kids.
It can feel like a brave new world but nothing changes overnight. Old habits die hard. Change is never smooth.
I used to be a pain in the a——
With young kids, I felt a lot of stress over “how can I be a good dad?” At the same time, I didn’t make things easy for my wife. I often felt entitled to complain, to take extended breaks, and expected praise every time I completed the most minimal task. I honestly don’t know how she put up with me. It probably felt like raising another kid rather than a partner. I bet there were times when she said, “screw it” rather than coach and cajole me through taking on a new responsibility. I admit it. I was often a PITA (pain in the a——).
I would get so frustrated every time I had to mow the grass or run the laundry. Where did I get this sense that I was doing my wife a favor?
I was a grown man who chose to get married, to buy a house, to have kids, and to work and pay the bills. But I often felt like a dependent child, just now I was treating my wife as my caregiver! Rather than use my energy to benefit my family, I fought against my responsibilities.
Why was I was upset that I HAD to do things for my family, for the house, for the kids?
Looking back, I can now see that I was scared. It’s that simple. I was resisting becoming an adult. It was easier (for me) to remain dependent. It’s hard to be an adult. I wasn’t ready.
I may not have felt like an adult on the inside, but I still played one every day. I got up and went to work. I was a good dad with my kids. I took out the trash, did the laundry, and paid the bills, even if I added a “tax” of having to be reminded or thanked each time.
So why am I happy to do it all now?
I feel like I’m making up a deficit of all those PITA years. I see that it’s an uphill battle to get to a 50-50 balance in our house, to get to the point where my wife can let go of some of the emotional load that she has carried for all this time.
Looking back, I can see that I benefited from the position that men often occupy in our society. We can make a choice to remain on the sidelines more easily than women. This shelter allowed me to hide out and avoid “adulting.”
My wake-up call came years later when I started listening to the working moms in my circle. They generously included me in their coffee chats and I learned about the uphill battle they fight every day. Working moms often carry the emotional load for their family. It’s almost harder to delegate or ask for help than to just do the laundry or call the plumber themselves. Each time the responsibility fell back to her, she would wonder why she even asked.
Many have partners who do help. It appears that some of their partners were raised more fully than I was, ready to be an adult right out of the gate. Now I aspire to be a man like that who takes on a responsibility and doesn’t look back for support or praise.
When I heard my female friends describe how guilty they feel that they never get to do all the things they take on, I began to understand how my wife felt all these years. When they shared how hard it is to hand anything off to their partners, I realized what a PITA I had been.
If you see the PITA you have been, you can create a shift. It doesn’t need to be dramatic. You can start by picking up something before your partner does. You can choose not to wait to be asked. You can keep your post-game analysis to yourself of how great you did. It doesn’t matter where you start. Just start.
Father/s Day has a different meaning for me now. Like nearly every dad I know, I am working to be better every day. But my motivation has shifted. I am less driven to avoid a negative image, to “do it differently” than my dad. Now I have a positive target to aim for, as the father and partner I want to become. I want my wife to feel less stress, trusting that I will share the emotional burden with her. I am working towards the day she can put down some of her worry about getting it all done. I work every day to keep up my end of the deal, to achieve that shift.
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