Today marks the 99th time this country has observed Father’s Day. Not quite the sentimental darling as its counterpart Mother’s Day, but we’ll still spend millions of dollars on millions of cards and red-meat dinners to celebrate fatherhood.
But who are we really buying all those ties for?
Many men have fathered many children in this country since 1910, but how many of these “fathers” are deserving of a holiday? “Any man can be a father,” reads a famous bumper sticker. “Not all fathers can be a dad.”
My dad was just 6 years old when his father died. But as hard as it was to lose his father, he grew up, married, and when he and Mom started having my four brothers and sisters and me, he knew how to be a good dad.
Whether he was getting up with us at night when we were 6-weeks-old or offering his arm to lay on during a thunderstorm when we were 6-years-old, my dad didn’t rely on the way he was parented to be the best dad he could.
He knew children needed to be taught the details of life while under the watchful eye of love and protection, even though he wasn’t raised by his father. He read us books and made up stories to tell us before we went to bed. He listened to our prayers, sang silly songs, and bought us chocolate donuts and let us wear paisleys with plaids on Saturday mornings.
He taught us how to paint a house, buy a lawnmower, check the oil in our cars, hang a picture, read a map, and love our spouses. I still call him when a pipe is frozen or my car has overheated. I love my husband and think he’s really smart, but that still small voice inside me always says, “Call Dad” when bad things happen.
My dad never called me “fat” or treated me in a way that would cause me to feel self-conscious.
I know I’m one of the lucky ones because as a mother, my experience with fathers since I grew up and moved away from home hasn’t been as positive as it was when I grew up with my dad. While it doesn’t take more than a few minutes to become a “father,” I’ve learned biology is no guarantee a man will be a good dad. And promises of non-biological fathers mean absolutely nothing to a kid unless it’s backed by a lot of action.
Real dads are the men who actually want to be with the children entrusted to their care and who show them through their words and deeds.
Real dads keep their promises.
They never discipline with violence.
When they tell their children “I love you” it isn’t fraught with conditions.
They say, “Hello, how are you?” when their children walk in the room instead of grunt at them from the couch, their eyes glued to the TV.
They eat Popsicles with their daughters on the front stoop.
They are the men who choose to be foster fathers to show children there’s another way of living other than with neglect and abuse.
They are the grandfathers who shower their grandchildren with love and kindness, or the uncles who take their nieces and nephews on family vacations.
Real dads are also the men who rise above their fears instead of bolting out the door claiming they’re not “ready” when confronted with those three little words: “I am pregnant.”
A real dad loves the children his new wife had before they met.
He keeps his child support commitment despite a disagreement with his child’s mother.
He sees his children every chance he gets no matter how far away he lives.
Good dads raise their children well even if their partner dies.
Real dads balance work and family the same way real moms do.
Real dads are there for a lifetime, even during the teenage years.
To the men who can’t do these things I beg you, stay away from children. Just because you can, don’t father children if you’re not capable of raising them. Don’t fall in love with a woman who has children. Recognize your inability to be a real dad and move on. You’ll be a better man for it.
To my dad and to all the men in this country who play catch and field grounders, mend knees and broken hearts, teach compassion and empathy, work hard and still manage to love children, have a very happy “Real Dad’s” Day this Sunday.
The world is growing up a better place because of you.