Arlington Heights, Illinois
Fatherhood has been on my mind a lot recently.
This past month has brought us Father’s Day with the usual barrage of
advertisements about making Dad feel “special” as well as more than one
article about those who are deadbeats, abusers, or are folks otherwise
disqualified from being honored as Father of the Year. Fatherhood has
been on my mind for another reason as well. My wife and I welcomed our
son into the world at the end of June, and he joins his big sister in
making a lot of racket in our home.
Father’s Day is a curious cultural phenomenon (as
is Mother’s Day). It seems to be a “Hallmark holiday” that has expanded
into a highly commercialized event in which one’s father is to be
showered with gifts and affection – or at least bad ties and permission
to play golf and barbeque. As I am sure happens in many consulting
rooms across the country, Father’s Day and Mother’s Day become times in
which many of my patients are filled with admiration and appreciation
for the positive parental figures in their lives, or with anger and
disgust about feeling forced to honor someone whose historical actions
do not warrant it.
Although these days are not the most important ones
on my personal calendar, there is another phenomenon occurring nearly
exclusively on Father’s Day that I find aggravating and exasperating.
Around this day, we are often treated to the barrage of articles and
television news spots in which we are reminded that men are a bunch of
neglectful, abusive jackasses from whom children need to be protected.
I find this maddening. For example, both of the major newspapers in the
Chicago area ran stories about a few hundred men who were arrested for
not paying child support. An article forwarded to the discussion list
by Ed Bartlett that appeared in the Ottawa Citizen Special
(Katherine Young and Paul Nathanson; “Another Chance to Bash Dad.” June
16, 2007) detailed and roundly criticized this.
The relegation of fathers to irrelevancy (or worse)
seems to happen quite early in the psychological life of a child. I
have been reading a lot of children’s books and watching a number of
shows designed for young children, and I am surprised at just how
infrequently fathers are included in comparison to the inclusion of
mothers. In the stack of books populating my daughter’s bookshelf,
mothers are very well represented while only a few include fathers at
all. What is going on here?
When I go to the bookstore, I always seek books
that include fathers. I discovered a great book about becoming a big
sister that gave the father a very prominent place in the story –
complete with diaper changing and bottle feeding (“I’m a Big Sister” by
Joanna Cole and Maxie Chambliss)! I think that we need more such
Once upon a time, the father was relegated to the
waiting room during the entire process of childbirth, and his time was
limited during the recovery process. In reflecting this past reality,
many television shows of yesteryear often showed a very calm and happy
pregnant woman informing her husband that “it’s time,” followed by him
running around bursting with anxiety. He is then shown anxiously pacing
in the waiting room until a nurse or physician appears to announce the
child’s birth. Recent conversations with my immigrant in-laws suggest
that this is still very true in many parts of the world.
In contrast, today many hospitals are taking
extensive measures to welcome the father into the birthing and recovery
experience. With the birth of our son, I was able to be present during
the caesarian so that my wife and I could share seeing him for the first
time. Just like all women who deliver at this hospital, my wife had a
private room that had special accommodations so that I could stay with
her through the night. Nursing staff were concerned about both of us,
although they were rightly focused on the patient.
So, perhaps some cultural attitudes toward fathers
are beginning to change. To the credit to the Chicago Tribune, they ran
several articles throughout different sections of the paper that were
honoring toward fathers – fathers who are divorced yet continue to be
important positive influences in the lives of their children;
“stay-at-home” fathers who forego long work weeks or career aspirations
at all in order to raise their children; and a man who stepped in to be
like a father to a boy in trouble. This is a welcome change.
Concluding Reflections. I long for a day
when fathers are seen as more than fiscally responsible for their
children. Many fathers – married, partnered, separated, and divorced –
are very involved in the social and emotional lives of their children,
or deeply desire to be so involved but are barred from doing so by
family courts. I hope that we begin to listen to the voices from
various walks of life encouraging fathers to take positive and active
interest in their children. The rewards are great and the costs of not
doing can be severe. Now I must go… my children need my attention!
Copyright 2007: Mitchell Hicks, PhD. All Rights