Father’s Day is here again. My Men’s Book just came out so I am doing a lot of thinking about fathers and answering many questions about the role of modern fathers. I am also in the midst of a huge life event as a father myself – I just moved my family from New York City to a remote spot near Ojai, California. Instead of a warm-fuzzy Father’s Day blah blah, I want to throw a pebble in the pond.
I understand why fathers bail on their families.
Being a dad is so much more than relating well to your kids. In a family like mine – which is somewhat “traditional” with me earning the money, and my career being the “decider” in terms of locale, lifestyle, etc. – there is a great deal of weight that fathers are expected to shoulder. In my case that extra weight is mostly welcome. I say mostly because I must admit, it gets hard. No matter how much the people around us express their gratitude and appreciation, our job as dad still feels like a thankless one. Dads rarely feel successful. If a father is really awake and self-aware, chances are he doesn’t feel like he is “slam dunking” his fatherhood. Men are hard on themselves. And men who are actually trying to be good are always giving themselves report cards – and the grades are never straight A’s. Here’s what I’m talking about:
- We don’t feel successful as breadwinners because no matter how much we earn, there could always be more, and more would make life easier in most cases.
- It’s hard to feel like we are really kicking ass in our careers if we are spending enough time with the family – so there is a usually some kind of subtle feeling of “it could be better” at the office.
- Our relationship with our kid’s mother is not easy – especially when kids are tiny like mine. She’s breastfeeding, she’s worn out dealing with the unreasonable toddler, she’s exhausted. Frankly, taking care of you and your needs – sexual, emotional, or otherwise – are not and really should not be her priority. But this results in the lose-lose scenario where there’s always a feeling that you could be getting more from her – and her needs are so vast that there is also a pervasive sense that you could also be doing more for her. Lose – lose.
- And then there are the kids. Child raising is such an imperfect science. Really most dads are merely hoping we don’t screw them up too bad. We give our love, our time, our money for schools and enrichment programs and the best things we can afford for them, we try to be good role models, but there is always more we could do. And then there is their love-need. I believe that nearly every child receives some kind of neglect-wound from their father. Their need for our love is so great – massive – and there’s really no way we can truly satisfy it. Even in the most present, conscious relationships between fathers and kids, there is an inevitable shortfall.
Add this all up and most dads will report that there is a general sense of sucking. Not that being a father sucks – because it really doesn’t. I love being a father, and compared to many fathers I think I’m a pretty good one. But compared to what the potential could be, I do kinda suck. And so, yeah, I get it why some men choose the shame of being absent and failing like that over the shame of being present and failing every day. Of course I’m not suggesting or condoning abandoning one’s family. I hold fatherhood as one of the most sacred duties. Every man who has kids – whatever their age – owe it to themselves and their world to do their very level best. But no matter how good that best is, they should also prepare to feel like they kinda suck.
So on this Father’s Day I have a couple of prescriptions:
- If you are a father: give yourself a big break. Give yourself a big (secret) pat on your back and buy yourself a gift you really want. Also, make an effort to bless and thank other dads and also take their counsel – it’s so important for dads to have each other. Talk about your struggles – it’s a big mistake when we try to do it alone.
- If you’re not a dad: take a moment to really consider the fathers in your life and know there is no gesture, no gift, no card that can really do justice to what they carry every day.