TODAY IS FATHER’S Day in Australia and New Zealand — I didn’t know that, but it’s put me in mind of Father’s Day.
I have no idea what I might have been “in mind of” when we had our Father’s Day, but here I am and being big on equality I’ve concluded that since I’ve often given in to the temptation to write a column about Mother’s Day, it was only fair that I write a column about Father’s day, so off I go to write a column about fathers and Father’s Day for Sept. 1.
Why is this … harder than a Mother’s Day column?
Father’s Day seems to lack the almost universal emotional appeal of Mother’s Day.
Oh, sure, we can (again) write it all off to more commercial hype, another manufactured reason to spend money, blah, blah, blah … but the fact is that didn’t stop us on Mother’s Day.
At least, it didn’t stop us for long.
Why is this harder?
For Mother’s Day, guilt and the reality of our lives notwithstanding, we could get away with flowers, or flowery cards, or flowery meals or whatever because it’s all about emotion, love, nurturing, softness, laughter, tears and … you know, mothers.
Then along comes Father’s Day and all that flower stuff is replaced with … a wrench?
See? It’s harder.
Maybe it’s because many of us grew up without a father on hand — or wished we had.
Maybe he was gone a lot — or even left — or we wished he had.
Maybe he was a loud-mouthed, abusive, ignorant jerk — or, maybe, we’d have thought we were lucky if that was all that he was.
Or maybe he was just … gone: Gone because he had to be.
Gone because that was the only way he knew to take care of his family.
Or maybe he was “gone” when he was there, immersed from choice in “guy stuff.”
Whatever, but gone is gone.
You know, it’s easier to write about what’s wrong with fathers, and maybe that just reflects my own story, which is simply another story about gone.
I think most of us are old enough to have figured out that fatherhood has little to do with the ability to make babies, because pretty much any idiot can do that, so it has to be more about what happens after the fun part — after a little one has shown up.
And most of us who did grow up with an onsite father probably didn’t grow up with Ward Cleaver, the ever-patient, ever-gentle, soft-spoken provider.
No, not likely, but some of us, apparently, came darned close.
Good for you.
Fatherhood — actually being a father beyond the biological contribution — seems to have more to do with strength and tenacity: protecting, providing, making safe … teaching.
Teaching what it takes to survive in the world, so we can survive in the world.
Teaching us about how the world will see us — who we are, from the world’s point of view — because that’s where we will have to live.
Teaching, every day, about what it will take — every day — to live. What we’ll have to do and how to do it.
Sometimes, teaching is done by explaining — talking things through until we understand — and, sometimes, over and over and over again.
Often, though, this teaching thing is done by example because we learn from what we see so you can talk from now until forever, but if I see you doing something different, that’s what I’ll remember, and that’s what I’ll learn, which is how bad things get carefully handed down from generation to generation.
But it’s also how good things get handed down — get taught — because we learn from what we see.
Some of us — many of us — have had male figures in our lives who took the time to teach, to show us, to allow us to try, to allow us to fail, to correct us, to allow us to try again, to correct us again, without rejecting us, without making us feel stupid.
Patiently, because he understood that we had to learn, because we had to survive in the world.
We had to be able to ask questions.
We had to experiment and take chances and take risks.
We had to practice and we had to be coached, and we, often, had to totally screw it up before we could get it right.
And we had to be able to do all of that in the presence of someone we respected, someone who wouldn’t give up on us, someone who would push us, without pushing us away.
Someone who would demand that we learn what it takes to survive in the world, so we could survive in the world.
Maybe that someone was our biological father, and maybe not.
Most likely, if we were lucky, we had several, and if we’re really lucky, we still do, but we remember the ones that acted like fathers, whether or not he had anything to do with the “fun part.”
Males — men — who were sure enough of themselves, and gentle enough and generous enough to teach, to lead, to help us get to where we needed to be.
Men who gave away their time, because some other man had given his time to him, because that’s how good things get handed down.
Men who had figured out — or been taught — that it’s OK to love, and to say so and to show it, because their ability to make babies isn’t compromised by it.
Men who understood that it isn’t really about Clint Eastwood macho or blazes of glory or stupefying feats of stupefying violence and ignorance, but what it is about is the everydayness of surviving in the world and doing it as a decent human being.
Men who taught us that, at the end of the day, you have to walk away feeling OK about you.
So, whether or not you were my father, you were my “father,” and I thank you — and love you — for that, and may Father’s Day be as good to you as you were to me.
Here’s a wrench.
Mark Harvey is director of Clallam/Jefferson Senior Information & Assistance, which operates through the Olympic Area Agency on Aging. He is also a member of the Community Advocates for Rural Elders partnership. He can be reached at 360-452-3221 (Port Angeles-Sequim), 360-385-2552 (Jefferson County) or 360-374-9496 (West End), or by emailing [email protected].