June 17, 2007

Father's Day 2007

Originally uploaded by Citizen Rob.
I began the actual writing of my next book a few days ago. I'd like to say that it was only a coincidence that I began a book on fatherhood (tentatively titled Father Land; that may change, but for some reason, I sort of need a title before I start something, nut that I am) the week before Father's Day. I'd be willing to concede, however, that the numerous advertisements for Father's Day sales and products might have provided a mental kick in the ass. "Say there, smart guy. Aren't you supposed to be writing a book on this stuff?"

Father's Day is a strange day, for the same reason that while I am looking forward to writing this book, I'm also much less sure than I was for Schuyler's Monster as to what exactly I'll be writing. Fatherhood is a murky concept, grown more-so in the post-Reagan era, where all the old rules have supposedly been chucked out the window and replaced with, well, nothing. Nothing consistent, anyway. The very first thing I talk about in the new book is the dearth of fathers in children's picture books, the ones for the very youngest. As they grow older, kids get Laura Ingalls Wilder's Pa and Harper Lee's Atticus Finch and such, but for the youngest, dad is strangely absent. Even Dr. Seuss pretty much leaves Pop out of his stories, unless it is to hop on him, poor bastard. The best father figure that the picture book set gets, in my opinion, is the Man with the Yellow Hat, and even he lets Curious George smoke an occasional stogie.

Motherhood has always been pretty clearly defined, for better and for worse, by society, but even during the Ward Cleaver days, fathers were always more easily defined by their absence (whether as a breadwinner or a deatbeat) than their presence. That hasn't changed as much as we'd like to think; according to Time Magazine, the typical American father still spends less than an hour a day with his kids.

As a result of all the confusion and fuzzy expectations, Father's Day ends up being, I think, a holiday without a template. In that way, it's one of my favorite holidays, and not just because I might get some stuff, swell though stuff may be. I like Father's Day because it's one that everyone just sort of makes up their own rules for.

I wanted to post something to wish all my fellow dads a happy Father's Day, but I especially wanted to send positive F-Day thoughts to all the special needs fathers out there, my fellow Shepherds of the Broken. I saw a post on another site about this subject, and at first it annoyed me. The gist of it seemed to be that while special needs fathers were rarely making decisions about their kid's care and were sort of standing in the background trying not to fuck up most of the time, we were nevertheless important components to the whole affair. It felt like a left-handed compliment.

But sometimes it feels like it might also be true. I know that the majority of parents I talk to about Shepherd topics tend to be women, for example, and when I attend meetings and functions for Schuyler's Box Class, I am usually the only father there. In fairness, one parent usually stays home to watch the kids, and I suspect at least some of the parents present would prefer we did that, too, rather than bringing Schuyler to all the meetings like we do. Still, it's almost always the mothers who end up at the meeting. I don't know, I can't speak for anyone out there but myself, but I think a lot of fathers have a naturally difficult time being taken seriously as parents under the best of circumstances. When the stakes go up with a broken child, we're not all suddenly transformed into Homer Simpson, but we might still find that societal barrier even harder to overcome.

I bulldoze right over it, and I do it with volume and scorched earth because I'm probably sort of an asshole. But I know how difficult it is to be a father of a child who is different, and I sympathize with every father out there who feels like they are in over their head, like a flight attendant trying to land a 747 without even Charleton Heston to help out.

To those dads, I want to say that the world needs you, more than ever, even if it treats you like morons by default. I hope that on Father's Day, at least, that world treats you like the heroes that you are.


Awesome Mom said...

You know I have always felt a bit bad about my husband not being as involved with Evan's care as I am. He just happens to really suck at spending time in hospitals, so I was the one that stayed with Evan. He also has work to work at so that we can afford health insurance and he can't get the time off for appointments and the like. If he can he is usually watching our younger son who is a bad person to take to appointments if you can avoid it.

He has stepped up to the plate and learned to do all the medical type things that we had to do with Evan and that to me makes him a very awesome and as involved as he can be realistically can be father.

Donna Huddleston said...

Love the picture. This is totally off topic, but do you still have hamsters, frogs, and stuff? How are the little buggers

Ben said...

The traditional role of the mother is usually the active one: nurturing, fixing, maintaining. The father's role has always been the more passive one, which I think makes it less apparent, though no less important. The father's role is to be the protector, the rock, the supporter. It's a role that only becomes apparent when it's needed, when something goes wrong, and so isn't seen all the time. It's also harder to practice, because the times when that person is needed are, by nature, unpredictable.

Now, this isn't to say that it's always the man who needs to be the passive one and the woman the active, though I think in general most people are wired to work that way, behaviorally speaking. And each person doesn't necessarily have to have the same role all the time or in every situation. I do think that it's important to have both roles represented, however, no matter who takes which one.

Amy said...

This is hardly a scathing rebuttal to your point re: fathers in picture books, but there is a series of baby books by Jan Ormerod featuring a rangy, bearded seventies dad and a mischievous crawling baby. Mercer Meyer's Little Critter books have an active dad, albeit in a more traditional breadwinning/disciplinary role. Anyway, not saying you're wrong just throwing out a couple of counter-examples if you want to check them out or refer to them.

Pat in Austn said...

Oh, Rob. You've hit my pet peeve this morning! It's not any help for Dads that the vast majority of fathers represented in ANY television commercial, sitcom, or movie are bumbling, incompetent blobs who cannot accomplish a simple task without help, prodding, insults and/or criticism from women and children!
Happy Father's Day!

Angela said...

It's funny you say that about the lack of father's in children's literature, because my husband always points it out when we watch tv. He seems to think-and I agree with him-that the fathers in most cartoons/children's shows are portrayed as complete dolts, if they are there at all. For example, Nick's "Jimmy Neutron", "Fairly Odd Parents", and "Danny Phantom" all have fathers that are well-meaning but are pretty much complete idiots. Disney does somewhat better, but even in the "Suite Life of Zach and Cody" (one of their most popular shows), the men are, for the most part, bumbling idiots. Of course, this is just what we've observed, but it certainly ties into what you've pointed out.

However, the Harry Potter series has had a string of strong male characters, although none of them are Harry's father. It might be worth looking at other popular children's/teen novels and seeing how many of them also use the absent/unsympathetic father plot device. Adolescent literature often incorporates the "fantasies" of readers, i.e. the absent parents, supernatural powers, etc., but again, it's more often than not that the father gets the short end of the stick while the mother is allowed some sort of redemption.

Kassie said...

There's also a dearth of male authors writing children's and young adult lit. My son's 3rd grade teacher pointed this out to me - she makes a conscious effort to select books written by men for her library. Have you thought about writing a few kids books? Maybe with Schuyler :)

maggie said...

"I do think that it's important to have both roles represented, however, no matter who takes which one."

ben, I couldn't agree with you more. I've seen what happens when one is missing. My daughter is in her 20s and her father has chosen not to be a part of her life since she was 10.

Anonymous said...

Happy Father's Day Rob

tiffany said...

Awesome post.

Funny though, I always notice that Disney has it out for moms. Mom is almost always mysteriously absent or gets killed or eaten or something.

Ooh and this is random and maybe not helpful, but we really enjoy this book of 16 bedtime stories... the father rabbit is sweet and funny and awesome.

Anonymous said...

Happy Father's Day!

Mete said...

I have to agree with your assessment that fathers aren't taken seriously as parents. My husband has been to nearly every one of Ethan's appointments in his five years of specialists, and doctors still address me directly and ignore him when we're in the room. Granted, I tend to be the one who has more of his meds and history memorized, but that's a product of my personal skill set, not my uterus. Jete has been as involved, possibly more, in every step of this crazy parenting journey, and he deserves credit for that.

Good luck with your book topic. I'd love to read your take on things, especially in light of my husband's unique journey. He left his job this Friday before Father's Day to become a stay-at-home dad - mainly due to Ethan's special needs. If that isn't turning Ward and June on their heads, I don't know what is. And I'd be damn proud if my son grew up to be just like him someday.

Superior Mom said...

Thank you, still, for keeping us parents humble - shepards of the broken and keepers of the yet-unbroken alike.

CB said...

In total agreement. For an excellent children's book, heavily featuring dad check out "Enemy Pie" by Derek Munson. www.enemypie.com Very touching book with an excellent male role-model. I'm just sorry I don't have more such examples.

matthew said...

Attending playgroups as the only Stay-At-Home-Dad has really brought home the reality of how entrenched the role of fathers is in our society. It's not universal, and in fact there are many moms who find it rather refreshing, but there are definitely moments when I know for a fact I'm being frozen out, that conversations are being limited to surface topics that they're comfortable sharing with men, and that I'm the one keeping the discussion from getting interesting. I find myself spending much more time with the kids than the parents, because the kids actually think it's pretty cool that there's a big daddy there to climb around on. When attending playgroups with my wife, I see the knowing looks the other mothers shoot her when I have any sort of trouble with my son. Because, you know, kids never misbehave with their mothers.

I can only imagine the exacerbation of that situation for the parents of kids with special needs. You have my admiration, if not my envy.

Oh, and happy Father's Day. Did you enjoy it? Okay, back to work...

Susan said...

I think the world needs a book about fathers, for sure. Fathers, to my poor little damaged soul, aren't just in the background, but not there at all. And unfortunately, when I look around at the children I know, absent fathers tend to be the rule rather than the exception.
I think one of my favorite things about reading your blog is being reminded that there are fathers out there who actually care about their children.
And I think nobody could do better than you at showing what a miracle fatherhood really is.
Wow, Rob, you could change the world! :)

britmummybites said...


May be worth a look to someone on here. My hubby never realised it was father's day yesterday.

Jen said...

Re: Dads in kids books, I always loved Russell and Lillian Hoban's "Frances" books. The gender roles were pretty strictly defined, but Father Badger was at least there, and interested in his kids. The "Little Bear" books also featured Papa Bear relatively frequently. And if you ever stumble across a copy of Tomie DePaola and Daniel Pinkwater's collaboration, "The Wuggie Norple Story", buy it immediately! It's the most awesome children's book family depiction ever - so delightful and absurd, it's such a shame it went out of print.

hannah said...

Fathers are not given much respect.
Fact is, kids need their dads. Very much.
I married a man who is egalitarian in his ways, and very nuturing to our children. He's often the one who will get up and soothe sick brows and calm upsets from nightmares. He's a diaper changing, cuddling, wonderful daddy.
He's also strong and a good role model of manhood for our children.
But I see how confusing it has been for men, and for growing boys in the shift that has taken place socially.
We do need men and we do need fathers. Little boys need to know this, as do little girls.
Men are capable of more, emotionally speaking, than they are sometimes given credit for, or than they sometimes demand of themselves. Sometimes society has such love expectations for men that sometimes it's discouraging.
Hurrah for the dads who love and are involved and who care.
I hope they dig in deeply into parenthood and enjoy it while they may.

Professor said...

You make me think a lot about why this is about dad's and about special needs dads in particular. I don't think I have any answers (at all) but what I hope most of all is that despite the dearth of positive father role modeling in this current age and past ages ("Father Knows Best"? Not exactly. "My Three Sons"? Another pretty dumb dad) we don't miss the chance to pass on some pretty important "fathering" skills to our kids.

Thanks for this. I also wrote about my own special needs husband in my Literary Mama Column. It was hard to pay homage as much as I would have liked.

Kathryn said...

Rob, Great to see this from your perspective. I do notice that in the parenting arena Mom's carry more weight in society than the dad's. I too have searched low and high for Dada books for Ellie and they are hard to come by. And when you do find them the Dad is oftem portrayed as an incompetent loveable guy like in "where or where is baby bear?" where the father loses his albeit precious baby bear who he eventually finds after asking mama bear for help.

Dave is a total partner with me as a parent. He is so earnest about Ellie that his enthusiasm and forthrightness (and the fact that he knows absolutely every detail of her day, her medical needs, etc.) make people take him seriously the minute he opens his mouth on the topic.

I also notice that father's who are involved and who participate in all aspects of the home and parenting are treated like super heros sometimes. It's like - hey you're not supposed to change the diaper or "help" with the clean up or be so engaged with your kid - so since you are you are Amazing! (though mom's do that all the time and are not amazing). But if your stats are correct - it is a sad, sad thing that most dad's spend precious little time with their kids. Dave was heartbroken when we switched roles and he went to work full time and I changed to part time. If Ellie did not have so much need for health insurance we would have both quit our nine to five jobs to go entrepreneurial in order to be around her as much as possible. And I have heard of this being a similar value with lots of other families in our peer group. So hopefully times will change and allow those fathers more time and more credit.

I am glad you are writing a book about it. I can't wait to read it. I also thought your observation about the rules getting thrown out post Reagan was interesting. Good luck writing it. Can't wait ot read it.

Kim Ayres said...

I hadn't really thought about the lack of fathers in kids books. However, I have noticed when it comes to blogging there are considerably more blogs written by mothers of children with special needs than fathers.

Anonymous said...

I wish I had half the strength and determination of Schuyler, and I'm 24 years old. What a kick-ass kid! (And a cutie to boot.)
I stumbled upon your blog, and am eagerly devouring every entry. It gives me hope for our sad little world that there parents who actually GET their kid. Adopt me!

Annie D said...

I told my husband to come over here and read this post.. I don't think he has yet..

But I appreciate what you wrote here to all the fathers of our different kids.

I think it can be hard for fathers to be fathers of the broken. I know my own father would have been terrible at it. Not that I think he is a terrible father or person but just his attitude towards disabilities, he wouldn't be suited to it. Like parents of Deaf kids who never learn sign language, that would have been my dad. If my dad had a child with disabilities, he probably would have given it up for adoption. or tried to terminate the pregnancy, had he known beforehand.
My husband doesn't take on the same role as me in the care of our son, but he does a hell of a job. He is definatley cut out for special needs parenting. He loves our son immensly, and is patient with him, helps him with his therapies, accepts him for who he is yet still expects him to keep pushing himself, challenging him to be better everyday.

Anonymous said...

The "Arthur" series by Marc Brown always feature a very involved father. He's often doing things like vaccuming or cooking breakfast (while wearing a t-shirt saying, "Liberated Partner").

Just a suggestion for another possible reference for your book.

Love the blog. Congrats on everything.

Anonymous said...

I agree about society's views on fathers. Their role gets even murkier and less respect if the couple splits up and he gets visitation. We had to work through that when I married my husband- he didn't know he *could* press for more rights as a father. He thought the mom always called all the shots and he deferred to her. Now he gets to see his first daughter a LOT more and he *does* get more (visible anyway) respect from the mom and other people around us.

I hope that we (all) are more likely to swing back toward the middle with acknowledgment of importance of both parents in a child's life. Some of the custody laws are trying to do that, and I notice some more TV shows are adding dads like some other comments mentioned- though as you say, there is still a huge shortage.

Pen said...

The Bartholomew bear books have a wonderful father, George. My favourite is Eat Your Dinner! Great for toddlers.

My husband nearly always comes to medical appointments and so on, and we've found here in Australia that doctors and nurses and so on always look to me, not him. In Spain last year it was exactly the opposite. The only person who addressed me first was the physiotherapist. I hated it, but it gave me some insight into how my husband feels all the time here at home. I really had thought he was just whining about nothing.

Having said that, most times at hospitals we only see other mothers attending. I guess that's what the doctors are used to.

Erin said...

Well, I see your point, but I think the classical father figure in fairy tales/ Disney fares much better than the mom. Parents in general get it, but real moms (not step) get it first. Sometimes dads make it to the second act. Real moms almost never do. For example: Cinderella, Snow White, Little Mermaid, Hanzel and Grettle, Aladdin, Lion King, Finding Nemo, Beauty and the Beast, Pocahontas and need I remind you of Bambi. Okay, so there are my two cents.
Erin (who is also from Slowdeatha)

Rikki Pretender said...

I saw this article just now and it reminded me of this entry: http://www.stuff.co.nz/the-press/news/health/6556490/Dads-bad-habits-aid-obesity.

Blaming the dads for the kid's obesity, not the mums. Bugs me and made me think of what you said about the world treating fathers like morons.