Fathers of the 21st century face new realities, new challenges, but also new joys. On Sunday, we honor our fathers, recognize their sacrifices, the example they set, the way they toil for their families and the often thankless job that falls to them of pushing us up and out of the nest.
If you accept that gender imbues men with certain characteristics, then fathers, especially with their sons, are the tough love to a mother’s nurturing, the kick in the butt to Mom’s pat on the back.
The 19th century French essayist Joseph Joubert put it this way: “Love and fear. Everything the father of a family says must inspire one or the other.”
They also teach their sons the skills to take on the world in a uniquely masculine way.
Former Minnesota Twins All-Star Harmon Killebrew summed up the role fathers play in their sons’ lives with this anecdote: “My father used to play with my brother and me in the yard. Mother would come out and say, ‘You’re tearing up the grass.’ ‘We’re not raising grass,’ Dad would reply. ‘We’re raising boys.’”
When it comes to daughters, fathers have a more complicated role, providing unconditional love and affection, strength and protection. British playwright Enid Bagnold explained it this way: “A father is always making his baby into a little woman. And when she is a woman he turns her back again.”
The world portrayed in 1950s TV shows, in which Dad is sole provider and dispenser of justice on the home front, is gone, if it ever existed. Today, Dad shares child-rearing responsibilities with Mom, since both work. That has allowed fathers to explore their softer side, to be the parent who makes the children’s lunch, drops them off at school with a hug, and first hears of the triumphs and tragedies of the day.
President Obama, whose father was absent, highlighted the scourge of the deadbeat dads in the annual Father’s Day proclamation: “Fathers have an obligation to help rear the children they bring into the world. Children deserve this care, and families need each father’s active participation. Honest and hardworking fathers are an irreplaceable influence upon their children.”
A more succinct telling of that truth came from writer Clarence Budington Kelland: “He didn’t tell me how to live; he lived, and let me watch him do it.”
And those fathers who have devolved from Superman to Homer Simpson in the eyes of their children, consider this from Mark Twain and take heart: “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.”