Postcards From the Margins: Fathers

Vincent Van Gogh's "First Steps," after Millet,  January 1890
Vincent Van Gogh’s “First Steps,” after Millet, January 1890

At the French Open, cameras panned to Roger Federer’s beautiful twin daughters, around 4 or 5 years old, in the stands.  I read somewhere that he wanted to win long enough for his girls to remember it.  So there they were, present for what appears to be the back half of his tennis career, but present, nonetheless, to watch their father’s strength and grace in a Grand Slam event.  Only they weren’t watching.  Each had her nose in a book, oblivious to the competition.

And I think that’s fatherhood, maybe more than motherhood, or at least the way I’ve experienced motherhood.  Sure, my kids ignored me on many an occasion, but I had the pleasure and privilege of staying home with them.  So lots of times I got more than I gave, or at least broke even.  Their dad, on the other hand, worked long hours, especially when they were young.  I can still remember our toddler daughter giving him, literally, the cold shoulder when he showed up to the dinner table having missed her bedtime the night before.

There was an editorial in the Star Tribune yesterday (“‘Gentleman’:  A concept put asunder,” by D.J. Tice) about how men in American society are losing ground:  they are working less, marrying less, enrolling in college less, succeeding in school at all levels, less.  Our level of single-mother households is evidence, Mr. Tice suggests, of an “alarming desocialization of males.”  And then he wonders just how well the sexual revolution is working out.

Oh, Mr. Tice.

I would like to go on record as saying that I think the sexual revolution is working out very well, thank you. Women can have babies when and if they want to.  For this reason and this reason alone, in my opinion, we will always be indebted to the sexual revolution. That other changes have followed is inevitable.  But men’s “losing ground,” losing their call to “provide and protect,” need not be among them.

I don’t see that we have institutionalized/socialized barriers to men providing and protecting.  If some women today don’t want to be provided for or protected, fine.  Personally, I am fond of being provided for and protected, and my good husband has blessed me with far more than my fair share of each. Of course, he also recognizes and appreciates that I’ve provided for and protected him and our kids many times, and in many ways.

So let’s not even think of going back, OK?

No one has to lose for someone to win.  What’s the phrase for that?  “It’s not a zero-sum game.”  Here’s what we need to do, as a culture, as human beings searching for grace and fulfillment in brief and often difficult lives:  provide for and protect each other, and especially the children we bring into the world.

Fathers:  I’m not talking about owning a home or everybody gets a Smart Phone or even one car per household.  I grew up in a family of 6, living in about 1,000 square feet, went to public school, wore hand-me-downs, ate leftovers. My father provided the roof over our heads and the magic of electricity when we flipped the switch.  He protected us primarily from an inflated or false opinion of ourselves.  His mantras were “Cut the malarkey” and “Don’t bullshit me,” which–trust me–we were hesitant to try.

My children’s father, my husband, provides and protects with the best of them.  And from the start he’s understood that sometimes when more is provided, more work needs to be done to protect the right ideas.  He has protected the notion, for example, that material wealth is secondary:  Just do the best you can, work hard, appreciate what you’ve got. He has protected  the notion, for example, that a life of service to others is often the best way to serve yourself.  My husband has provided and protected by modeling these values for our children, for our family, from the word “Go.”

Even when no one was watching. Especially when no one was watching.  Just remember:  Kids see far more than we think they do, put themselves at risk far more often than we’d like them to.  Hold on to this:  provide, protect.  Mothers and fathers, both.  The best you can, for your kids, for each other.

And Happy Father’s Day to all of you co-providers and protectors.  We appreciate it, even if we don’t say so often enough.








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