Yesterday I had a few harsh words to offer on the subject of Father’s Day. A few of you took me to task about it, and it set me to thinking. And I guess I’d better set something straight.
I have nothing against fathers. It’s the day I can’t stand. I’ve never been much for scheduled affection and merriment. I have a hard time with New Year’s Eve, for instance. I mean, I like to get drunk as much as the next person. I just don’t like to be told hey, tonight you have to get completely wasted and have a good time. Something in me rebels.
I don’t think I’m alone with this. I have noticed that all the really big mergers and acquisitions I’ve been a part of have taken place over long holiday weekends when executives, investment bankers and lawyers are supposed to be at home “relaxing” with their families. This is not a coincidence. Can’t be. It’s happened too often. Moguls in particular have a really hard time with mandated periods of rest and reflection. They’re okay when they set the schedule themselves. But to have it thrust upon them? No sir. They don’t like it.
In my pique over the compulsory and commercialized aspects of this particular minor holiday, however, I may have led some of you to believe that I am somehow lacking in respect and admiration for dad himself. Nothing could be further from the truth. My esteem for fathers is based on my conviction that doing what it takes to make the grade doesn’t come naturally to us.
It’s hard to earn a living, for instance. If you left it to many of us, we’d be okay with a mattress, a box spring, a big, flat-screen TV and a refrigerator full of Chinese food. You can’t raise a kid like that, let alone keep a wife interested, so over time we modulate our sense of what a home is supposed to look like.
When the baby comes, it’s a big adjustment. I remember, when it was my turn to do so, being up at the terrifying hour of 3:30 AM, rolling a stroller back and forth and singing “It’s A Small World After All” over and over again to my little girl, who was wide awake, perfectly affable, as long as the singing and rolling continued. When it stopped, drama ensued. I now remember those nights as being some of the sweetest in my life.
Having a baby is like being subjected to classic brainwashing techniques. Every couple of hours they wake you, march you around, interrogate you. Just as you’ve fallen back asleep, exhausted and disoriented, they wake you again, march you around, interrogate you. You’re not really sure what they want from you because you don’t speak their language. That goes on until you identify with your captors and are ready to sing their anthem. Then they let you go out and do propaganda for them.
Then there’s the fact that men aren’t always bred to endure great, heaping dollops of emotion. Suddenly, there they are, all the deep, resonant, powerful feelings that we’ve generally kept bottled up inside us for as many manly years it’s taken us to toughen up. We’ve always had them. We’ve always managed them. Now we have to let them out. Most of us get sort of good at it after a while. But still.
A lot of us also have to master our habit, bred into us from birth, to take charge of everything, control everything, turn the little dudes into some impersonation of our better selves. This is hard for a lot of guys, particularly those who are obsessed with team sports.
Not to mention the whole aspect of having to know what to do about things. Kids come to you and asks you for your opinion on stuff quite a bit. All of sudden you’re supposed to be a source of information on science, for instance. This takes study. Other topics are even more difficult to master.
Throughout the years, we’re also supposed to set an example, to be upright, forthright. We’re not supposed to come home reeking of gin. We’re not supposed to yell or be cruel to small animals. For most of us, most of the time, this is achievable.
At last, after we’ve transformed ourselves from plain old men into fathers, and come to like it, there they go out the door, plunging into the deep river of their own lives. They don’t need to be rolled to sleep at dawn anymore. They don’t need to know why the sky is blue. When they have questions, they are often the very same ones that you have asked yourself over the course of a lifetime and still can’t quite answer.
In short, it’s all kind of strange to us, the whole pageant, and somewhat against the general grain of what it means to be a male human being the rest of the time. It is also, in the end, the best thing that we did during our short stay on the planet.
So forgive me, guys, for being too crabby about the small, well-earned day that’s been reserved for us. We deserve it. We’ve earned it.
Have a good one.