Dads sometimes seem like an endangered species in modern America. But the reality is that fathers and mothers alike often don't get the respect they deserve. A couple of weeks ago the MarinGOP got the most "interactions" ever on a social media platform because we dared to share and point out the stupidity of an elected official who chose to rename mothers as "birthing people." At the time a lot of people made jokes about what kind of ridiculous newspeak term the wannabee woke would make up to replace the earned title of "father" or "dad."
The reality is that being a "dad" --like being a "mom"-- is a lot more complicated than merely donating some genetic material. The woke types who wanted to replace "mother" with "birthing people" thought it would be more "inclusive" but, as is often the case, apparently they were so sheltered and out of touch they had never met a woman who becomes a mother by being a step mother or an adoptive mother. My father was horrified by the great "birthing people" controversy. Dad doesn't spend any time on social media. It is for the best. He figures if it is interesting or important someone will tell him about it directly. Otherwise it is a waste of time. But even pre-social media my dad was appalled by what you might call "proto woke" types. Buying milk at the supermarket he'd scan the covers of the magazines in the check out lines and remark that the women who wrote articles about men for women's magazines --you know the type, everyone does-- probably couldn't collectively identify or capture an actual man with a dictionary, encyclopedia, flashlight, map, butterfly net and season tickets to a hockey game.
Dad is probably, as he usually is, right. The woke --and even the proto woke-- types who live in a world of editors and theories and worry about "toxic masculinity" probably do know a lot about toxicity but probably don't know a lot of actual men. Or maybe any.
As a Millennial I would say that when I hit college about half the kids in my freshman class had grown up largely without fathers. Maybe they had weekend dads. Maybe they didn't. Some had step fathers. Some had "dads" who had spent their adult lives in a state of arrested development, careening from one failed marriage to another, insisting that the children of their first marriages refer to dad's 4th wife as "mom", claiming victim status if the kids mentioned they didn't want to waste time getting attached to the latest "step" because the last two had been kind of temporary. I wasn't unique having a dad in the home. Statistically improbable though it may be, the three other girls I shared an apartment with in the dorms freshman year all had dads in the home. So... we all had dads show up to drop off their baby girls at college. The four dads couldn't have been more different. Lori's dad was a stereotypical tech guy. Pocket protector and all. Na'keisha's dad drove a tow truck in East Texas and went to church on Sundays with his girls and his wife. Kris's dad had grown up in a town famous mainly for its sausage. (I know this because as a result we got twenty pounds of summer sausage every month for snacks.) And my dad? My dad was at least decade older than any of the other fathers. Still with enough of a Bronx accent that it frightened some of the midwestern to the suburbs born parents who were warning their children about the need to have enough laundry detergent while my dad was telling me how to spot a predator in a parking lot and how to always stand firm, always.
My dad isn't a stereotypical tough guy. People who like stereotypes? They definitely wouldn't like my dad. Then again, people who are into stereotypes don't like me either. My dad doesn't fit in a box. My dad loves flowers, is kind to small animals and elderly ladies, never uses foul language, and is really really tough. When I was very small he taught me how to read. A brutal experience for both of us. He didn't want me to be stigmatized or ignored by schoolteachers because I'm dyslexic and sometimes the letters just dance on a page for me. He toughed it out when I cried and threw things and wanted to give up. He taught me how to tough it out too. Just because it isn't easy doesn't mean something isn't worth doing. Later on dad taught me how to clean out a sink trap, throw a punch, check the pressure in my tires, be polite to everyone --everyone, regardless of "socio-economic" status-- and roll with the punches. Because life throws punches. Dad knows this. Back in the 1960s my dad was in uniform, standing in the howling cold of a 2am winter night in New York, a popsicle in a coat, guarding synagogues. Because threats are real. In the real world there are real threats.
When we are children, if we are lucky, we have a dad and a mom who will guard us from the threats of reality. If we are REALLY lucky we have dads who explain to us that as we grow up WE need to be the ones who stand guard. We need to face down threats. Deal with over flowing sinks and death threats. Maybe we need to be the ones who hold down full time jobs while going to nightschool. Maybe we need to walk those mean streets and make them a little less mean. Maybe we need to be the ones who explain reality to people who live lives sheltered from reality. Because if we don't, if we fail, we end up facing nightmares.
Dad, and dads in general, probably deserves a thank you right now. My dad wouldn't ask for much. He is self effacing, he judges himself and --usually-- doesn't much care what other people think. By his own standards he is a success. He has been happily married for decades to the tall girl he met on a beach back in the day. He feels like he is a success because he has a happy family. Oh yeah... all that hardwork? That paid off too. It wasn't easy, but hardwork and saving money and second jobs and side gigs and not taking fancy vacations and planning for the big things --all that boring stuff the flash and dazzle types who push get rich schemes on television say it is "stupid" and chump-ish to do the steady work hard thing-- meant my dad has his American dream. But as far as my dad is concerned, he never judged himself by the house he lived in or the car in the driveway. It was, and still is, about doing the right thing.
Figuring out what to write for a Father's Day post I used a search engine and pulled up too many navel gazing essays by people with better writing creds than I have --MFAs in journalism and semi paid jobs with the dying embers of the print media-- talking about all the ways their dads' failed them... the stress of "toxic masculinity" and the "flaccid" retroactive shriek --whatever the heck that is-- of a failed system. Quite frankly I don't take most "journalists" that seriously. I doubt much of what they write comes from the heart. They are writing for a market, or a perceived market. They are assembling words and attempting to sound smart enough that their readers feel smart repeating a few buzzwords. Right now the concept of failure and the "toxic masculinity" trope seems to sell. It all seems a little surreal to me... Like... maybe you should get out and focus on reality more? Or maybe you should spend more time focusing on your own family?
My dad can be a little schmaltzy sometimes. As I was finishing editing this he asked me what I was working on with my laptop. I told him, a father's day blogpost. He immediately said father's day is about family. We should all be grateful for the families we have. My dad, more than most people, is aware of how many people out there don't have someone to call on father's day. He's my dad, but he's been a mentor and a good example to others along the way. Maybe that is what dads do. They teach us to work hard, but they also teach us how to accept we don't always get what we've worked for.
In the real world disappointment is a part of life. It comes with the territory. Like cold nights in front of a synagogue. Or death threats. Or flowers. Or instruction manuals for do-it-yourself furniture kits that don't really seem to explain how to put all the parts together. Life doesn't come with an instruction manual. Kids really don't. Dads of all kinds --Na'keisha's dad, my dad, Lori's dad with the pocket protector-- wing it and figure it out on the fly. And this father's day maybe we should thank all the dads that keep going even when the going is tough.
So... thank you dad for teaching me how to keep going.