What is it about dads?
This is the question we find ourselves asking on Father’s Day. It’s easier to ascribe words of general benevolence to our mothers, but a father’s love – perhaps even his sense of meaning – seems far more mercurial. He is a comedic authoritarian, a huggable bear, a brutish champion and a bumbling broker of peace, all at the same time.
As 18th century moralist and essayist Joseph Joubert commented, <em>“Love and fear. Everything the father of a family says must inspire one or the other.”</em>
<strong>On Fatherly Reflection</strong>
The author and singer Margaret Truman, who sadly left us in 2008, said of a father: “It’s only when you grow up, and step back from him, or leave him for your own career and your own home. It’s only then that you can measure his greatness and fully appreciate it. Pride reinforces love.”
That’s the kind of wisdom we hope to get from our fathers, but ask any father and he’ll tell you it’s difficult to think so abstractly about fatherhood. It’s easy for a father to quote something snappy about being a dad that his father told him, but the modern father is often too busy holding on for dear life in the moment to imagine what his kids will think of him during his sunset.
<strong>On Fatherly Wisdom</strong>
Above all else, dads are supposed to know … stuff. Fathers are expected to be teachers, even though their methods may be unconventional at times. As writer Clarence Budington Kelland once said, <em>“My father didn’t tell me how to live – he lived, and he let me watch him do it.”</em>
Yesterday, in the time of Hemingway, that meant learning how to fight a bull and bait a hook. Today, it means teaching kids the dangers of the Internet, texting while driving and buying more house than you can afford. Our grandfathers would likely sneer at this transition, and so it is that the fathers of today will likely take issue with the changes of tomorrow.
This is nothing new. Roman playwright Publius Terentius Afer told his audience as much around 200 B.C. when he exclaimed: <em>"What harsh judges fathers are to all young men!" </em>
<strong>On Father’s Day</strong>
For fathers, this is the day that you earn by showing up and being a good dad. How do you do that? Take a tip from Louis C.K., one of the unlikeliest yet most prominent speakers on the subject of fatherhood in our time:
<em>“Spend time with your kids and have your own ideas about what they need. It won’t take away your manhood; it will give it to you. I did that. I spent more time with my kids. And I found out that I’m a pretty bad father. I make a lot of mistakes and I don’t know what I’m doing. But my kids love me.”</em>
Not everybody can be Louis C.K. – which seems like a good thing – but if dads take a few pages from his playbook it should keep them well-stocked in awful ties for the rest of their lives.
Happy Father’s Day weekend to all the great dads out there.