Fatherhood

I am writing this on Father’s Day, a somewhat artificially created holiday that doesn’t quite achieve the stature of the more venerable Mother’s Day. Mother’s Day, after all, has officially been around for more than a century, first achieving its official status when President Woodrow Wilson made it a National Holiday in the U.S. in 1914. It soon spread quickly throughout the world and is currently celebrated in May in some 85 countries.

Father’s Day, on the other hand, only became proclaimed as an official holiday in the States in in 1972, and was done so by none other than probably the most dubious President ever, Richard Nixon. In Canada, although it is widely celebrated, it has no status as an official holiday.

As a holiday, it is a bit of an arriviste, considered by many as more of a commercial plot to stimulate sales of Father’s Day cards and gifts. Even from that perspective, it pales in comparison to the billions that are spent each year for Mother’s Day flowers, cards, dining out and gifts. It is estimated that Mother’s Day spending in the U.S. alone exceeded $20 billion dollars. Father’s Day spending is estimated at about half of that.

Of course, none of this should be much of a surprise to anyone. In terms of emotional appeal, mothers are justifiably much more valued and recognized in our society than fathers, particularly by our offspring. For most of history, and even until recent times, the overwhelming burden of raising, teaching, nurturing and looking after kids, has been the mother’s primary burden. The father brought home the bacon, focused on career, made war, politics and consumer goods, and took on the role of disciplinarian with the children whenever warranted, and in many cases, even if not. It is no wonder that most children formed strong emotional attachments with their mothers, whereas the relationship with fathers was often much more problematic.

It has only been in the last couple of generations when women achieved more equity, rights and stature as individuals, rather than just being seen as wives and mothers, that things have started to change.

Increasingly, with the stay-at-home mom becoming a rarer species, men have started assuming more of the responsibilities and tasks that historically have been assigned to the mother’s role. Fathers are changing diapers, feeding and bathing their kids, reading and playing with them, and providing the emotional and nurturing support that all kids need. The parenting workload is becoming a lot more balanced, at least with increasing number of modern young parents, and that is all to the good.

I have become increasingly aware of this in the past couple of years since I became a grandfather for the first time. I have watched with no small measure of pride, how my son Andrew has become an exceptional father, playing a vital role in the care and upbringing of my grandson Sebastian. When I contrast what he is doing, with what I did when I first became a father, I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that he is doing a far better job of it than I did. Although at the time, I thought I was a good father, it was only so because I was measuring myself against a much different yardstick.

That yardstick, of course, was my own father. He inherited his principles and methods of parenting from the old-school Ukrainian environment he grew up with in rural Ukraine. Though I have no doubt that he had the best intentions, and he did his utmost to ensure we lacked for nothing in our upbringing, his version of fatherhood had little room for overt demonstrations of affection, for spending “quality” time with his kids, or for having honest, open dialogue with us. A father had to be a strong role model, enforce discipline, and keep the family unit strong and under control.

When I became a father, I was determined that I was not going to be like my father, and would try to be much more modern, approachable and loving to my kids than he had been to me. To some extent, I think I succeeded, but looking back honestly in retrospect, I have to admit that I inherited more of his traits than I care to admit. I guess that that too is reality. Our values, principles and traditions change slowly, often over the course of many generations. That is the nature of human evolution.

My greatest joy and satisfaction, though, is in seeing that my son is carrying on the torch and becoming the kind of father that I now wish I had been. Happy Father’s Day son!