Once upon a time, what a mother did and what a father did was very clear — moms would hold down the household fort, and dads went off into the world to fight the good fight and provide for the family.
Lucky for GenX, the feminist movement kicked in when we were still in diapers, and that paved the way to lighten (well, at least shift) the load for X- and Y-totin’ humans.
It turns out that moms can bring home the bacon AND fry it up in the pan, and dads often are the best moms.
Cut to today, where tasks according to gender lines are extremely fluid (just ask Caitlyn Jenner, whose kids still call her dad, at least for now!), and it’s all hands on deck for all aspects of the very active verb parenting.
And the verb provide is also a shared responsibility in our über-expensive, über-competitive, über-everything world.
Still, there are some things that dads provide that nobody else can — or will, or can do in the same way, depending on the situation. So whether you are a father or simply have one, in honor of Father’s Day, here’s an alphabetical look at all the many things that dudes supply:
Answers: This is not to say that moms don’t have answers — we certainly do, and usually are more than willing to not just share the answers, but also debate the question — but dads are very good at being short, sweet, and to the point. Anything that requires quick reasoning, logic, or has to do with sports, numbers, or directions somewhere, I point the children to my husband or my dad. Please note what I just wrote sounds totally sexist, and I assure you I could figure that stuff out… but why bother when the Y-chromosome in da house has a knack for that stuff?
Balls: Sure the ladies have balls, but not nearly as literally speaking as the dudes do. Raising children is ultimately an act of courage, and it takes balls to make hard choices, especially when they affect the tiny humans you’ve created. It takes a big brass pair to be a dad in this day and age — or any day or any age. Also, there are the figurative balls, as in sports, and it’s been my experience that fathers often lead the youth sports charge, be it as volunteer coaches and refs, or even just cheering (fuming/muttering under his breath/etc.) in the stands.
Confidence: Dads can bolster confidence like no other. It starts with unconditional love; from there, a father’s stalwart belief in his daughter’s or son’s abilities is the secret ingredient to raising strong, resilient people. This doesn’t just apply to successes; it also extends to the times things aren’t going so well. A dad’s unwavering confidence in a child — no matter how old that kid is! — can be the rudder that helps steer the boat out of rough waters.
Direction: I don’t know about you, but whenever I’m lost, I always call my dad for directions. This is a figurative AND a literal situation.
Encouragement: Encouragement goes hand in hand with confidence. As a mother, I see giving my kids daily words of encouragement as one of the more important things that I do. And I’ve noticed that when it’s my husband doing the encouraging, it somehow sinks in more quickly and perhaps even more deeply. (Maybe that’s just my own perspective — and maybe my dad needs to bolster my confidence in this arena =)
Friendship: While I’m a firm believe that parents aren’t their kids’ friends, there is a buddy element in the relationship that’s undeniable. Just the other day, I came home to find my son and husband watching Pulp Fiction, one of our favorite movies. Later, as the two Googled quotes and watched videos about little-known Pulp Fiction facts (like this one), I couldn’t help but think about what a nice friendship the two have. Like Pumpkin and Honey Bunny. Vincent and Jules. (And NOT Marcellus Wallace and the Gimp!)
Goofiness: This may be more gender stereotyping, but men are goofy. If they weren’t, would we have Homer Simpson, Peter Griffin, Stan Smith, or even Fred Flintstone? Amiright?
Humor: This is a double entendre — like I said above, men are goofy, and many of the dads I know have great senses of humor (you’ve gotta laugh a little to get through some of the more ridiculous aspects of parenting!) But they also can listen to a long, drawn-out story told by children of all ages, and humor them by patiently listening.
Inspiration: I think now more than ever, parents are aware of how much they can be role models to their kids. And while dads have always been a source of inspiration for their children, they are also more accessible in some ways, and share more of their personal pursuits with their families. The result is a big, phat dose of up-close, modeled behavior that the young’uns can draw on as they grow-up.
Justice: When it comes to making punishments fit crimes, nobody’s better at that than a dad. As a part of the Wait Till Your Father Gets Home generation (a precursor of The Simpsons, Family Guy, and American Dad), my perception has always been that somehow a dad’s punishment is the most serious of all. Again, maybe this is some bad ass gender stereotyping, but when a dad turns his sense of justice on say, obnoxious parents talking smack in the stands from a team that’s playing your child’s; a bully trying to get the best of your kid; or a neighbor who’s not being so neighborly… watch out as a dude can go all Dirty Harry in the blink of an eye.
Knowledge: Is it me, or do most men have an extraordinary capacity for a wealth of facts — both useful and obscure? This is why I always enjoy a male partner for Trivial Pursuit, and weep with joy that my dad still can rock the Periodic Table of the Elements and knows by heart every single math formula under the sun… and is an excellent teacher to boot.
Life: While men don’t necessarily get the dramatic birthing stories that us vagina-totin’ peeps do, you gotta give it up to the fertilization they provide that makes all things possible.
Motivation: Dads can be an excellent source of motivation. Take for example my own pop — many years ago, when I was in the funk of early motherhood and my husband was starting up a business, my dad was the one to tell me to get off my ass and help with the family biz (see: Confidence, above). That was a big motivator, but then again, the push comes in all shapes and sizes. So, for example, when I see my husband motivating my kids each morning to get up, get themselves ready, and out the door, I’m grateful.
Nurturing: Traditionally moms have been seen to be the primary nurturers, but in today’s world, it’s really 50/50. Case in point: the number of men hauling kids around in BabyBjörn carriers — and you thought that was just a punch line from The Hangover. (Seriously, just check out BabyBjörn’s Instagram feed.)
Optimism: My dad has a saying: “There’s nothing I can do about it, so I’m not gonna worry about it.” If that’s not the ultimate definition of optimism, I don’t know what is!
Patience: While we can all be impatient at times, the trick to good parenting is to not lose your cool during the waiting game. It’s been my experience that the men in my life are far more willing to patiently help a kid complete a tedious science fair trifold, throw the ball a million times until the child can consistently catch, help a wobbly new bike rider to go up and down a street a zillion times until s/he’s peddling confidently, etc.
Quality of Life: This goes straight to the heart of the impulse to provide; most of the dads I know are hell-bent on giving their kids every opportunity possible, and as nice of a lifestyle as they can. This includes being a hands-on parent, because in the end, the most valuable thing a dad can do to ensure quality of life is to be a consistent part of his family’s day-to-day.
Reason: Again, another double entendre. Dads can explain things like no other with clear, reasonable explanations. And I’ve also found that when a child is being totally unreasonable, fathers have a way of talking the kid down from the ceiling to a calmer state. At least that’s what my dad does for me =)
Strength: This is both physical and emotional — in a lot of ways, dads need to be the toughest mudders of them all…. whether they’re actually participating in one, or just making it through life like the rest of us.
Talk: Dads walk the talk, have talks (including THE TALK), and give pep talks. Kids converse with their dads much differently than their moms; in my experience, I have had really deep talks with my own father in just a few short sentences.
Unconditional love: Of all the things a dad can provide, this is the most important. Because love is the answer, and there’s never any question about that!
Values: One of the more important things a dad provides to his family is a clear picture of what he values. This can be as deep as integrity, virtue, honestly, loyalty, etc., or as light as cooking burgers a certain way, taking time to read a Sunday paper (remember Sunday papers?!), or making a priority of seeing live music on a regular basis.
Wisdom: Wisdom is knowledge’s kissing cousin, but it also includes insight from personal experience. A father’s wisdom is not about sheltering his children from the things that can (and probably will) befall them; instead, it’s about giving them the tools to pick themselves up, brush themselves off, and carry on.
XO: Is there ANYTHING better than a hug and a kiss from your dad? Didn’t think so.
Yumminess: Of course a dad can be yummy in his own right, but I’m talking about those dads who cook or bake, too. Right now I have a Black Forest cake in my fridge that my dad made. Hungry? Jealous? Uh huh – that’s what I thought. Maybe your dad should make you one, too!
Zest: Are all dads zesty? Mine is (especially when he adds lemon zest to a recipe). And my husband is… if yours went to camp, he has zest (and pep and might and spirit, too!). Z is also for zebra, but that doesn’t really fit in with this post (unless you are a baby zebra).
So this Sunday if you see me running through the alphabet and hanging with the dads in my life, just know that unlike the ABC’s, being a super dad that provides so much for his family is never easy. But like motherhood, it’s definitely the toughest job you’ll ever love!
Happy Father’s Day, my bastards in suburbia (and beyond)!