Paterfamilias’ Progress

Happy Father’s Day.

There were two guys playing golf and a terrible lightning storm came up and the first friend was ready to run for cover when the second friend walked up to his ball, lightning hitting all around them, and prepared to hit his next shot.  His terrified friend shouted, “What are you doing—you’re going to get killed!”  To which the more intrepid golfer of the two calmly replied, “Don’t worry, I’m using my two iron—even God can’t hit a two iron.”

As to whether God can or cannot hit a two iron… it’s just a joke.  But we can now be sure that “God” (or at least random lighting) can, and did, hit a six-story high “touchdown Jesus.” This Father’s Day I miss my father-in-law, Arthur, who in the end of life had Judaism to win and Catholicism to place in the horse race of religion, but I am not privy to that particular betting window and so I do not know if any of his bets paid off.

Meanwhile, a reader comment on that Touchdown Jesus breaking news item caught my eye; peppered between smug quotes from Exodus about not making graven images and counter-comments about the folly of religion was, “If lightning hits a statue of Zeus is it different?  Discuss.”

On this the week of Father’s Day, that comment got me thinking of the archetypal Father and His evolution.  Whether it’s Zeus hurling lightning bolts or Moses going ballistic and smashing the tablets, I wonder how many men suffer under the yoke of internalized paternalism.  In other words, how many hotheaded guys end up acting like dicks mostly because that’s what they’ve been taught—that this is the way that real men, particularly Fathers, behave?

On the other hand, some young people (my kids included) wonder if they might not be just a tad better off if father was meaner, and thus they could be forged a little tougher.  Yet the sons and daughters of mean, volatile (and particularly the absent) fathers often grow up only to end up on my consulting couch—trapped between images of absently weak passivity and aggressively destructive power.

Fathers can be great, but they can also be a little hard to have around and a little hard to be.  On this, the fiftieth year anniversary of To Kill a Mockingbird I turn to Atticus Finch as that stoic yet feeling, brave yet human, lonely yet tender, good politics yet part of his community single dad to stand in our virtual pantheon of fathers—sending him good wishes and hoping that he approves of us in our efforts as best Self parenting.  The thing I like about Atticus as idealize father is that his kindness reflects strength—in counterpoint to male dread of emasculating submission to feminine will.

My hope is to honor our fathers today, biological, adoptive and spiritual by way of adopting a parenting attitude; honoring (male and female) teachers, mentors and heroes (real and mythical) and widening our understanding enough to recognize our own fathers (for better and worse) and at the same time honoring the father within each and every one of us.  Men can mother and women can father; in the end, if we reach our highest ideals, the just becomes doing what needs to be done and that is equally fathering as it is mothering.

What does it really mean “to father?”  How is it different than “to mother?”

Some dear lesbian friends have bristled at my use of the term “biological father,” instead suggesting the term “donor.”  They maintain that the “donor” who helped genetically contribute to the existence of their son is not his “father.”  “Father” is a lot more than that they say, and I completely agree.  Thus if we go beyond biology, then fathering might be thought of as honoring the masculine principle (which exists in males and females).

I’d probably be happier with Yin-Day and Yang-Day.  Therefore we can wish a Happy Father’s Day to all those who caregive—males who “mother,” and females who empower.  My point, beside these holidays being marketing and promotional ploys to sell cards and populate brunch seatings, is that the need to put people into boxes leads to alienation (not to mention ties that do not bind, but merely sit in boxes unworn and to mugs that men never really wanted) rather than to greater community and closeness.  Mother’s Day is not nearly enough to recognize mothering while Father’s Day as often shines a light on disappointing “donors” as much as it invites the warm fuzzy of Norman Rockwell.  All is not well with our fathers and our fathering and this day does little to redress it.

What fathers really need, in my view anyway, is deeper understanding for how painful and lonely it is to be a “real” man in our culture.  I’ve only found authentic freedom and self-esteem as a man by embracing the feminine principle, and this allows me to truly appreciate and connect with men (something many women are still trying to figure out how to do).  While dads need to step up as parents, we as a group need to decrease judgment on those who fall short and instead deepen our love, compassion and understanding that these so-called men really are the lost boys.  We can argue that the lost and stunted boy-men don’t deserve the break, but they drown in their own shame and this blocks growth and healing.

I’m not sure if it wouldn’t be better to just have “Parents’ Day” since the artificial division of masculine and feminine into gender roles seems to bring more harm than good.  And while we’re at it, when do we celebrate Father’s Night and Mother’s Night? (As God knows we all have those dark nights of the parenting soul).

In the meantime I think of good times with my dad; of sneaking out to Navy Pier in Chicago to get fried shrimp and French fries oil decadently seeping through the double brown paper sacks, crunchy, moist and salty in the steaming winter car.

I think of the horse-drawn carriage on Mackinac Island, the horse shitting up a storm as it trotted—Maggie, never to be forgotten for her fleck of brown on my dad’s aquamarine golf slacks and, best of all, him laughing about it.

I think of being four and going with my mom to pick up dad from the airport, as he was always traveling.  I remember seeing him down the long O’Hare hallway and running like mad with arms outstretched to greet him, only to fold in my wings and duck my head in embarrassment as I realized at the very last second that this was not my dad, but rather another random balding guy in a suit and winter coat.

Today I do not wish to deconstruct the man in the grey flannel suit, but merely to give him a hug, no matter what his name and no matter what his job and no matter what he (or she) is wearing (and no matter whether there are traces of poop, spit-up or egg on that shirt).

My mom recently said to me, “As a parent you can understand how much we love you, even if we made mistakes—and we all make our mistakes.”

And if we are willing to love each other, then together perhaps there is love for every last father—and love coming from the fathers who have extra to put in the pot to benefit those who have gone without.

So, given that we care about all of our collective children, then I wish all of us a Happy Parents’ Day (with a particularly emphasis on the masculine).  And of course I wish my personal father all the best, with gratitude for “donating” and for fathering me.

Namaste, Bruce


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6 Responses to “Paterfamilias’ Progress”

  1. BigLittleWolf Says:

    An interesting perspective, as usual. And raising sons – not entirely without a father figure – but largely on my own, I wonder about the many ways this will teach them how to be men – by omission and commission, and by virtue of multiple cultural influences as well.

    I guess all we can do as mothers and fathers is our best, hoping not to repeat the known mistakes that came before.

    Happy Father’s Day to you, Bruce.

  2. Kelly Says:

    I love this sentiment. As someone whose examples of fatherhood weren’t biological, I definitely agree that all the “dads” out there deserve a big ol’ hug.

  3. Linda at Bar Mitzvahzilla Says:

    Bruce, I don’t know how I missed this lovely father’s day post when you wrote it. Father’s Day has been wistful for me ever since my dad died when I was 15. I always automatically think I don’t have a father and it takes an effort to remember that I have a stepfather of 20 years to honor.

    I also want to tell you that i’ve missed your posts.

    • privilegeofparenting Says:

      Wishing you all good father spirit, present and transcendent. And thanks for missing my posts… striving for balance and at the same time striving to be here in spirit as best as I can. Namaste

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