Father Knows Best (unless he disagrees with SJ)

14 06 2012

People sometimes complain that I don’t write enough about fathers. They don’t complain that I don’t write enough about giraffes, which is strange, as giraffes are another awesome creature that I only see very occasionally. As Father’s Day approaches, I’m considering it more.

There just aren’t many dads on my caseload. I am currently at an all time high with dads, as three out of my twelve families, 25%, have a father involved. My wacky director talked to us during one ritual suicide staff meeting about the “myth of the absentee father.” Her point was that even when the fathers aren’t there, their presence still matters. OK, I agree. Her other point was that we need to be seeking out dads more often. Easy to say when you aren’t in the field anymore. Believe me, I ask. So where are they?

Some are far far away-they’ve moved out of state, and contact is limited to an occasional phone call at most. The move is frequently accompanied by a new family, and that is kind of that.

A lot of our families have histories of domestic violence, meaning that the dads are often legally prohibited from seeing the mothers, and at times the children. (Definitely for the best when you’ve threatened to kill your children and their mother.)

And some dads are not too far away, but they’re just not around. They’re not interested, or they’re not consistent. Obviously plenty of the mothers I work with fall short of their parental responsibilities. But there’s a difference in how the men and women I see experience finding out that they’ll be having a baby. For the mother, it’s real in that moment. For the father, it’s hit or miss.

The thing is, most of the men I work with don’t have a better idea of how to be a father. If your own personal example of a father is someone who you see only occasionally, who breaks promises and doesn’t support you and your family, it’s a struggle to do something different. Even if you know it made you feel terrible.

But we all know that some people do the hard work of making changes and breaking cycles. My father’s example of a dad had a lot to do with supporting the family financially, and drinking in the basement. (The laundry was always done!) Yet my dad managed to be way better than every other dad. Including yours, sorry.

Yeah, let me pick up you and your friends from that ska show in Jersey at 1 am, no problem. Your little league team needs someone to pitch, because we don’t have a tee and five year olds can’t throw? Awesome, I’m in. The man genuinely enjoyed Girl Scout father-daughter dances. He had a true knack for making social studies interesting, and was by far the best at playing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. (Also, he reads my blog regularly. Hi, Dad!)

There are some dads who, like mine, didn’t have the best example of how to be a good father. Or had much worse. But something made them decide to go above and beyond, and be amazing dads.

  1. There is one single father on my caseload. He recently took his teenage daughter and her cousin to see “Think Like a Man” to facilitate a discussion on romantic relationships. Sure, that discussion contained the line, “most boys are just trying to get at your cookies,” but the man gets credit for trying.
  2. The father of an eight year old boy realized he wasn’t spending enough time with his kid, so he managed to secure an extra ticket to ComicCon. It was a surprise. The boy walked into a room full of superheroes and his head exploded.
  3. A proud, and I mean proud father of six told me about the family’s recent trip to the Botanical Gardens. And then showed me pictures…and pictures…and pictures. His wife was telling him, “SJ doesn’t want to see all of them!” while he scrolled through to the last one, because, “look, they’re so cute.” They were pretty cute.
  4. A father of seven who somehow managed to get our entire office, staff and clients alike, engaged in singing Christmas carols at the holiday party. (The moment was ruined when I attempted an “O Holy Night” solo.)
  5. During one home visit, the father of a three year old girl painstakingly painted his daughter’s nails throughout our conversation. He was also a really good sport when it was his turn. Sparkly pink was totally his color.

Fatherhood is tricky. It seems dads are either labeled idiots or saints. Single dads are cheered as heroes in a way single moms rarely get. But it’s also pretty insulting when people act like you couldn’t possibly know how to take care of your own child, or ask if you’re “babysitting.” (People apparently actually say that to fathers about their kids. Gross.)

We’re always analyzing what role fathers play in this work. Why aren’t there more involved fathers? What do we do to change this? How can we teach boys the importance of being an involved parent? Who is going to teach the next generation about cheesy jokes if they don’t have dads?! Sometimes, it’s nice to take a break from that and celebrate the good.

Happy Father’s Day!