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Sunday, June 15, 2008

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Map Maker

100_6077.JPG lovah.

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 tell—he'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.



Blogger The Other Laura said...

Happy Father's Day, indeed.

We just skipped the card altogether this year...

12:12 PM  
Blogger Geoff Meeker said...

Bravo. I only wish the cardmongers at Hallmark would read this.

12:12 PM  
Blogger reneedesigns said...

That is beautiful.

8:51 PM  
Blogger the mama bird diaries said...

Really insightful. I know my husband feel exactly the same way.

10:25 PM  
Blogger Carmen said...

Wow, you said it girl.
I opted for the goofy cartoon card this year. But I wish I could have bought the card you wrote here. Just change a couple of words to relate to daughters, and it's just perfect for my man too...
Happy Father's Day to your Patrick, and my husband, and all the dads doing a fantastic job raising their kids without a road map.

7:19 AM  
Blogger Rebecca said...

Beautiful writing as always, and far better than any card Hallmark is going to make! Happy Father's Day Patrick!

8:28 AM  
Blogger Misbehaving said...

We're all (Mom's and Dad's) graded on a curve. It can be frustrating.

10:34 AM  
Blogger Neil said...

I think you inadvertently came up with the perfect solution to marital negotiation with chores and child-rearing: wii championship boxing.

10:50 AM  
Blogger Ashley said...

This is the best Father's Day blog I have read so far. Nuff said.

1:00 PM  
Blogger Maestra Force said...

Kyran, I've been browsing your blog for a couple months now, when I get the chance. Thanks for your thoughts.

My dad, my soon to be father-in-law and his son-in-law all do so much for their children in map re-drawing. I can never find the right card either. I make my own now.

Just thought I'd say hi and let you know that I really appreciated this post.


3:02 PM  
Blogger Joy! said...

Yes! I love the image of redrawing the map.

10:22 PM  
Blogger Assertagirl said...

I went with a blank card this year and wrote my own personal note inside.

I can't wait to see what kind of father Graham will be. I mean, I know he will be a good dad, but what kind of a dad...

6:57 PM  
Blogger Monroe Art Guild said...

I too feel unfilled at the card stand. For mother's day, my husband forgot to buy a card for me (I presume), so he folded a piece of printer paper and pen'ed his own message. It's one of sweetest gifts I've received.

8:08 AM  

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