June 17, 2007
Father's Day 2007
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.