I don’t know when Fathers’ Day is this year, or even where the apostrophe goes in its name. My daughter is still too young for obligatory gratitude, though she can still melt my heart by saying “I want to be with daddy” on her good night phone message. Sometimes I cannot resist telling her how fortunate we are, how much more time we have spent together than many fathers and daughters, even with us living apart half the time.
When my daughter was little, I was a stay at home dad and now I work part time. So even though Ronia’s mother and I are now separated, Ronia and I get to spend a lot of time together. It is true we are lucky, but I have no idea how she will assess this over her own lifetime. How will she weigh having to negotiate two homes, the many times that she wanted the parent who was not there? I can’t say I will ultimately deserve her thanks–if she gives it–but the fact that she has already told me “thank you for doing my laundry!” will last me a long time.
Father’s Day, the day for my daughter to officially thank me, embarrasses me.
During the last Father’s Day together with Ronia’s mother, I was part of a Jewish father’s group. The mothers of these men’s children wanted to show their appreciation with all the fierceness you would expect from such a group. After a vast number of emails, they settled upon stainless steel water bottles bearing the label “Peace, Love, and Abba.” Mother’s Day had gone uncommemorated by us abbas collectively, but it did provide my estranged wife and me with a rare moment of bonding at the ridiculousness of it all.
My reluctance to accept praise for my fathering, on Father’s Day or otherwise, was nicely encapsulated by Michael Chabon’s excellent Manhood for Amateurs, a Jewish American man’s user manual if ever there was one. He relates an episode at a crunchy Berkeley grocery store where a woman accosts him. “You’re a good dad, I can tell!” She tells him. Chabon goes on to explain that we would never evaluate mothers so casually.
Once a year, maybe, and on certain fatal birthdays, and at our weddings or her funeral, we might collate all the available data, analyze it, and offer our irrefutable judgment: good mother.
I don’t want to give myself or other fathers too much praise, feeling how the creep of low expectations, of “I could always be worse,” sneaking in. But I feel like at a certain point, I do need to celebrate. I enjoy many a problematic holiday, Jewish and secular alike, so why not hold onto something this Father’s Day? That after a year of school, and over a year of separation my daughter and I still feel close?
So for one day, I am going to try to set aside my self- and other father-deprecation and celebrate a bit. And usually I find the way to enjoy a festive occasion more is to widen it.
On this Fathers’ Day, let us honor the working class men who form the bulk of stay at home dads. Let’s honor the queer dads, who now must not pretend to be straight to become fathers. Let me honor my own dad who confounded rural Wisconsin by rarely being seen without his own children in tow. Little did I know when he dragged me to hardware store after hardware store that something pro- and trans-gressive was occurring! And finally let us hoist our stainless steel water bottles to all the mothers, our own, our children’s, who have set such a wonderfully high bar should we actually try to aspire to it.
Looking for the right book to get dad for Father’s Day? Check out this list.