Sunday we celebrate fatherhood. Whether it happens the old-fashioned way or not, becoming a father is the easy part. But actually being someone’s dad for the rest of your life?
Now that’s the stuff that counts. There’s more than one right way to interpret the role, though. In fact, you may have noticed that there are as many ways to father as there are fathers.
No matter what kind of father you are, one thing’s for sure: fathers matter to their children. Your impact on your children’s lives, both good and bad, cannot be overstated. But don’t let that paralyze you with fear.
It irks me that even today, popular culture often portrays dads as bumbling idiots who can’t snap a onesie to save their lives, let alone spend an entire afternoon alone with their kids without losing one of them at the park.
I’m tired of this stereotype and wish more men and women would speak up about this, because the truth is, most dads are quite capable when left to their own devices.
Make no mistake, though, dad isn’t mom. And thank goodness.
Though it’s helpful when parents collaborate and set consistent expectations regarding things like chores, homework and discipline, dads should feel free to do their own thing when they get face-time with their kids – and we moms need to get out of the way and let them. Contrary to popular belief, most typical children survive – and often flourish – when parents, even those not living together, do things a little differently. What matters is the love, not the details.
For example, my husband is often up and out of the house long before the kids and I are awake each day, and sometimes he returns from his job in Chicago after everyone has gone to bed. One night several months ago he volunteered to make a school lunch for our son out of something leftover from a spicy meal they’d just shared. I was thrilled to have one less lunch to conjure and Noah was delighted with the departure from my relatively anemic turkey sandwiches. This soon became a habit, an extra way for my husband to sort of connect with Noah during his absences, and before long he began making Holly’s lunches, too. He does tend to tuck in a few more cookies than I might, but I try to look past them and see the big picture. After all, these lunches are really love-notes in disguise from a dad who just wants to connect with his kids.
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During a baby-naming ceremony I recently witnessed, a poem penned by the baby’s grandfather was read out loud by the father. Not only would this little girl have her father doting on her, I thought, but her grandfather, too. I was moved to tears. What a lucky little girl, and what a perfect way to begin a life.
But children don’t need perfect fathers, they need present fathers. It’s just not enough to make these babies – or to put on your best tie one sunny Sunday and promise to protect, nurture and love them. It’s the follow through that makes a man a good father. It’s the being there to help her make friends with the monster under her bed, having patience with her little-kid ways even when you’re bone-tired, noticing her pain when she tries to tell you about how she was picked last for kickball again and reassuring her that she’s beautiful when she anxiously sneaks a peek in the mirror. It’s cheering from the sidelines when you’d rather be golfing and making sure she studies for her test when she’d rather not.
By the way, your children don’t care what kind of car you drive or how important your clients are. Or whether you have a big house or a fat bank account. You may care about those things, but your kids really don’t. It’s true, they need for you to provide for their basic needs – no small feat, anymore – but it seems to me, dear dads, that what is really essential is showing up.
• Jennifer DuBose is a contributor for the Kane County Chronicle. She lives in Batavia with her husband, Todd, and their two children, Noah and Holly. She can be reached at email@example.com.