Yesterday afternoon I dashed out to Target to pick up a Father's Day present and card for Patrick. The present was easy (Wii Championship Boxing (shhhh....don't tellhe's still sleeping). The card less so. Standing in front of the display, I had the same perplexed feeling I remember from when my own father was the recipient of printed and embossed sentiment. Then, as now, the greeting card stand gave you two versions of fatherhood from which to choose: lovable, bumbling cartoon idiot, or revered patriarch, whose masculine greatness could only be described allegorically, by sailboats and leaping salmon. Sort of a cross between Yahweh and the Marlboro Man.
My Dad fit neither of those. Patrick either. Thirty years of seismic social change, and popular culture hasn't much budged on its portrayal of fatherhood. Part of me shrugs and says, big deal. Popular culture is by definition constrained to homogenize and pasteurize reality. But it is a big deal, because as anyone on the margins of society will tell you, to never see your reality represented in the spotlight leaves you fumbling around in the dark.
Patrick's father was a warm and loving man, and very much a product of the fifties and early sixties. He left for work before his sons woke up in the mornings, and he retreated to his armchair at night. He was a gentle disciplinarian and quick with a hug, but would not let the boys kiss him. He adored Patrick's mother, Millie, with every breath in his body (forty years into their marriage, he still gazed on her as if she were a beauty queen), and when she died he barely knew how to boil water.
For every couple I know with children, division of household labor and parental involvement is an ongoing, perpetually unresolved negotiation. It's hard because raising a family is hard work. Great work, but more work than any two people without a full domestic staff or endless supply of selfless relatives can accomplish without yelling at each other sometimes.
Once, when we were "negotiating" over hands-on time with the kids, Patrick threw up his hands in honest frustration, and said, "But I'm already a hundred times more involved than my father was with me."
I had to agree. "And it's still not enough."
We were both exaggerating to make our points. But the core feeling of that statement was true, and I think is true, for most fathers today: they are already doing so much more, and it still doesn't feel like enough, and it doesn't help that nowhere in popular culture is there an up-to-date map to get us through this new landscape. It's like trying to navigate the interstate system with a road atlas from 1956. With your kids in the back seat and the wife saying, "well, just ask someone."
Where is the Father's Day card that says, "to a hell of a human being, who is so much more to us than a cartoon fall guy or an unreachable ideal, whose struggles and accomplishments, gifts and flaws, are part of what makes us who we are; and who is redrawing the map of fatherhood and manhood daily for his own sons by trial, error and inexhaustible persistence, even when the way is hard and unknown?"
I guess this is it.
Happy Father's Day, Patrick. For today, it's more than enough.
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