(Not So) Common Sense
A Love Letter to Dads
By Carole Townsend
First off, Father’s Day is Sunday, June 19, all day long. There. No excuses now.
If many of us are honest, we look at Father’s Day as an afterthought, kind of a “Well, we did it for Mom, so it’s only fair to set aside a day for Dad, too,” kind of thing.
I know I did, when I was younger. Of course I loved my dad. But let’s face it; Mom did all the work. She took us to the doctor when we cried and felt sick. She took us to the dentist (which I hated then and I still hate today, but I do it because Mom insisted, thank heaven). She went to parent/teacher conferences, which of course back then translated to “Mom/teacher conferences.” In our house, Mom disciplined while Dad traveled or read the newspaper and ate his dry roasted peanuts (he kept the jar beside his recliner, and we were forbidden to touch them). To this day, I look at freeze dried peanuts the same way I look at caviar - untouchable.
Still, we gave Mom a day. We have to give Dad one, right? I must say, I view Father’s Day a lot differently now than I did when I was a kid. Why? Because I’m a mom. I get it now. I get how important Dad is to the family. And when I say “Dad,” I mean the dad who stuck around. I don’t necessarily mean the biological dad, though I firmly believe that that is the ideal situation. But not all biological fathers deserve to be dads. I mean the dad who STUCK AROUND. See, back when I was a little girl, we didn’t have to make that distinction. A divorced couple back in the 60s and 70s was as rare, in my neck of the woods anyway, as was the tooth fairy. We heard of such families; we just never saw one. They just didn’t happen. Back then parents, for better or for worse, stuck it out. I’ll admit, sometimes it truly was for the worst, but parents just didn’t divorce. Divorce wasn’t as accepted as it is now. And that’s not an endorsement of the practice.
I’ve seen a phenomenon that I believe has been caused by today’s casual incidence of divorce, and it makes me very sad. I believe we have forever changed the American family, and I don’t believe the change is for the better. I believe that children are being sadly short-changed.
Among our children’s friends, and their friends, here’s what I see. Young couples get together. Somehow, some way, millenials get together in a way that only they can define. And hold up – I am not saying ALL millenials follow this pattern, but a great many of them do. They don’t use the “D” word (dating), and they abhor the “G” and “B” words (Girlfriend and Boyfriend). Yet somehow, they end up together. Sometimes they take the big plunge and live together, and sometimes they are only together a time or two, if you know what I mean. Eventually, a baby is created, though birth control is taught with the same diligence that English and Math ought to be. In some cases, the couple stay together for as long as they’re “happy.” Others drift apart as randomly as they drifted together, and a baby is just a result of that same randomness. Please keep reading; I'm not lay niching into a missive about morality. That is hardly my place. I’m launching into a missive about the value of a biological donor, but a real, honest to goodness DAD.
A father in a family is not an afterthought, nor is he an optional character. A father brings as much to the table as does Mom. Sometimes, it’s just the Dad. In that case, I don’t have to tell you his value. You know what he brings to the table: everything. But in a family where there’s a natural Mom and a natural Dad (as rare today as was the tooth fairy 50 years ago), or in a family with Mom and a loving step-Dad, the man is not an afterthought. He isn’t a character that can be carelessly written out of the family story. Dad brings a richness to the family that no other character can.
A dad gives children a view of the world, or life, that Mom can’t. I say this because I believe that men and women are wired differently, and for good reason. Sometimes, Dad does the hard things like taking Junior to the doctor, or going to the parent/teacher conference when Junior isn’t exactly a model student. But a good Dad also provides a valuable role model for his sons and just as important, he teaches his daughters how they should expect to be treated by boys and eventually, by a man. Make no mistake: the way a man treats his wife, teaches his sons how to treat women, and models for his daughters how they should expect to be treated by men. A father teaches his children how to have fun, how to respect, how to be silly, how to conduct themselves, how to do more things than I can possibly list here. He teaches his children how to love well, how to be gentle and how to be strong. A father completes a mother, and he completes a family.
What I see today is that many young people view a man as being an optional inclusion in a family. Young women do not always see a father as playing a vital role in the family she’s creating, because her dad wasn’t a part f the family in which she grew up. Young men do not always see the family he’s creating as being every bit as much his responsibility as it is a young woman’s. Oh this younger generation talks about freedom and independence and choice, but when they make a child, they are not making choices for themselves only. They are making choices for the new life they have brought into the world. And as politically incorrect as I know this next is going to sound, that choice is not solely theirs to make, because it is not only themselves who are forever impacted by that choice.
My generation of widespread divorce has taught its children, by example, that a family is like a Lego building. We can remove that piece or this, and still have a complete toy creation before us. Yet, take a closer look at what we’ve built; it’s not the same. There’s still a piece missing, and it’s an important one. Otherwise, why else did we put it there in the first place?
Should every man be allowed to remain part of a family? Absolutely not, just as not every mom who produces a baby deserves to have the right to raise that child. Creating, and caring for, a child is the highest calling ever bestowed on a man or on a woman. Career doesn’t matter. Income doesn’t matter. Physical beauty and physical accomplishment don’t matter, not to a child anyway. Abuse, neglect, and selfish prowling, on the other hand, they matter. A selfish, abusive, neglectful Lego can be removed, and the building is better for the removal. But for a couple to drift together, procreate, then decide days, months or years later that they just aren’t “happy,” is selfish. It’s destructive. It can be the ultimate abuse of a child. There’s a reason that it takes a man and a woman to create a child. If we could do it on our own, the family would be redefined, believe me. We’d look like flowers, or some lower amphibians.
The trick is for a woman to find a good man, one who believes in the value of a family, and who rolls up his sleeves to build the best one he can with the woman that he loves not just today, but until the day he dies. Not a guy who just looks good, or who likes the same bands she does, or a guy who makes her “happy.” Believe me, that word is redefined over and over in a marriage, by both parties. There had better be something more than that. “Until death do us part,” in other words. But to find that man, she has to know what he looks like. She has to be taught what he looks like, and she will learn that from her own father.
A man who chooses to be part of a family, a loving, caring part of a family, is absolutely to be celebrated. Whether that man is a natural father or a man invited into a family to be a father forever – a stepdad - he is to be celebrated. On Sunday, treat your dad like he is a king, because if he loves you and has devoted his life to raising you, he is a king.
He may be the king who taught you to make rude noises with a straw and your underarm, or the king who taught you how to build a fort out of blankets (then slept there himself that first night, he was so excited), but he is a king. He may be the king who taught you how to do the perfect cannonball, or how to solve an algebraic equation, or how to write a poem. He may be the king who taught you to love and respect your mother by doing so himself. He may be the king who taught you a strong work ethic, and honesty, and integrity, so honor him this Father’s Day. We are not guaranteed another one on which to do it.
As for our family, straw noises before the cannonball are a familiar sound around here, as are the squeals of displeasure and the giggles afterward. So are eye-rolling and patience with the sometimes outrageously funny things my husband does, even now that he’s a grandpa. As Mom, I tolerate all of this, but secretly, I love the whole mess, as I do him. As I do our children. As they do him. As they should..
Happy Father’s Day.
Carole Townsend is a Gwinnett author and freelance writer. Her fourth book, BLOOD IN THE SOIL, was published April 2016. It is the true tale of a crime that took place in Gwinnett County nearly 40 years ago. Her other three books are MAGNOLIAS, SWEET TEA & EXHAUST; RED LIPSTICK & CLEAN UNDERWEAR; and SOUTHERN FRIED WHITE TRASH. Carole often appears on network television talk and news shows, as well as on national true crime radio shows. Her books can be found in bookstores, on Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble.com, and at www.caroletownsend.com. When she’s not writing, Carole travels throughout the southeast, talking to groups about women, children and the family. For more information, visit www.caroletownsend.com. For more information, visit www.caroletownsend.com.