In Gratitude for Present Fathers
My life is almost entirely female oriented. Everyday I hold a baby girl to my breast and let the wonder of the woman body nurture her early existence. I go to work and negotiate the personalities and emotions of the women I work with. I listen to the nightmares of female victim after female victim and wonder, why? Between my responsibilities as mother and counselor, I think. I think about female oppression and suffering. I think about the dysfunction of a society that values women more for the way they look than the way they act. I think about God and women…Whether God is a woman and whether God loves women. I am consumed by my own womaness and the female experience around me. And yet I realize that this is a privileged consumption.
I think of that cliched phrase at times, “Behind every great man is a great woman.” I don’t know if that is true but I do know that behind this woman are great men and wonderful fathers. I so often complain about patriarchy and violent, misogynistic men that I wonder if the real men in my life know how grateful I am for them and how important I think they are.
My own father taught me how to see shades of grey. He taught me that there are no hierarchies between children of God, we are all equal and we all deserve compassion. It is from my father that I learned how to praise God through poetry and music. He dragged me to art museums, historical monuments and operas, all in the hope that I would expand my mind. And when I did, he got out of the way and let me experience the journey. Perhaps the most important lesson my father taught me was how to persevere through the reality and injustice of life and find happiness in spite of it.
Maybe it is un-feminist of me to say, but I would be nothing without my husband. He is the one who makes my issues with life and God bearable. He provides the safety for me to question and reach for the things that I want. It is my husband who nurtures our family. Every morning he wakes at 5:30 with our baby so that I can sleep an extra hour or two. It is he who cleans the house, changes the diapers, wipes little noses, kisses boo-boos, plays the baby games. For all of his work he is rewarded with two children who love mommy best. His is a thankless job. But I thank him for it because I know that as our children get older, he will give them the strength to dream without limit. He will teach them how to work hard and reach the goals they have set. My children are the lucky ones, they have a father who is present and will provide them with every opportunity. It is men like my husband and father who are slowly changing the world because they know that what makes them a real man is living a life of respect, compassion and equality.
Somewhere in our society we convinced ourselves that men really aren’t necessary and that fathers bear little more responsibility than providing a genetic deposit. I see the effect of neglectful and abusive fathers every day; their children walk around with a hole left in their soul by their fathers’ absence. There is no social program or therapist that can heal that loss. And unfortunately, we women share much of the blame in allowing this to happen. Yes, women have been oppressed and minimized throughout history. Yes, women were told that the home was their sphere. But that shouldn’t keep women today from demanding that the fathers of their children step up.
Despite the two holidays devoted to parents, the sad truth is we undervalue the roles of fathers and mothers. While mothers are most often taken for granted and overlooked, society simply lets fathers off the hook. So let us celebrate the fathers who fulfill their role with relish and joy, who nurture and mentor and love their children as they deserve.