It should be no different than for Mother’s Day, but it is. On Mother’s Day, moms everywhere are declared free from the kitchen. Usually that means traveling to a restaurant. If not, then someone else cooks, even if it’s just breakfast in bed.
Father’s Day doesn’t always work out that way. Dads everywhere head to the backyard and fire up the grill. Oh, they might be lured by the shiny new stainless steel Beef Blaster 3000, complete with man-sized grilling tools, but nonetheless, dads are doing the cooking.
I’m declaring the week off from cooking. In this post, there is no recipe, and there are no pictures of food. Instead, I’d like to share some thoughts about Fatherhood. The role of fathers has been downplayed for many years. It’s getting better, but it still could use a boost. In recent history in our country, the impact of dads has been regarded as secondary to that of mothers. I’m not suggesting for one minute that fathers should be viewed as more important than mothers, but I strongly feel that they are equally as important.
Attempting to accurately and thoroughly encapsulate the importance of fatherhood in a blog post is about as easy as the getting the proverbial camel to pass through the eye of a needle. Just my own experience in raising my two great kids, Matt and Lauren, would take several volumes, and yet, the more I thought about it, the more I was able to distill it. It occurred to me that fatherhood is simply about holding on and letting go, (and knowing when to do both.)
At one time it was espoused that mothers provide the love and fathers, the discipline. It’s not that simple, and certainly not that cut and dry. Parenting roles need to be shared, and shared as much as possible. But, to me at least, it’s obvious that mothers are better at some things, and fathers have their niche, too. Mothers are superb at holding on. They’re nurturers, comforters, and encouragers.
Let's face it. We all know that the job of a father is more complex. Dads have to know how to both hold on to some things and let go of others. It’s very stressful! Sure, we have to know some of that mothering stuff, but we also have our own skill set. Okay, mothers everywhere, put down the rolling pins! But now that I have your attention, let me tell you what I really mean.
Fathers are preparers, equippers, and nudgers. A good father knows how critically important it is to let go. Moms want to hold on and, let’s be honest here, they really never want to let go. But fathers know that our job as a parent is to prepare our kids to release them; to let them go and send them out into the world, to take their place and fully realize their independence. Holding on, letting go, and knowing when to do both. It's a tough job, but somebody's got to do it.
I wrote the following poem for my daughter last September, the week after her wedding, and I think it does a pretty good job of capturing what I’m talking about.
It came to me when we were flying back from Birmingham,
That I rarely, if ever, hold your hand anymore,
Now that you are grown and self-sufficient,
Your need for me to function in the role of protector has moved on.
There is a history of hand holding with you and me.
A quarter century ago it was established on a Tuesday in November.
Not the first time I held you. You weren’t in the mood,
All red and spastic, in response to the abrupt change in your environment.
After you discovered how to breathe and stopped flailing your arms,
You settled down and grasped a single finger.
It was automatic, spring-like, closing when touched like a tiny trap,
Not motivated by any need, but it still made me feel like a million bucks.
Holding you that night in the hospital,
I started to think about what it would be like to have a daughter.
In my family there had been no girls for fifty years, and I knew
I was entering unchartered territory for a father with my surname.
That night, I thought about dolls and tea parties, dresses and hair bands.
I wondered how old you would be when you got your ears pierced.
I thought about cooking and softball and dancing with you on your wedding day.
It was then that I realized that someday I would have to give you away.
I think I held onto you a little tighter.
I savored the moments when I held your hand, finding myself
Hanging on for just a fraction of a second longer.
In truth, never wanting it to end.
You probably don’t remember all the times I held your hand.
There was nothing in my fatherly job description that was more important;
Whether it was washing them, (hands that got dirtier than most boys),
Or removing splinters or slapping on Band Aids.
I held your hand to keep you from slipping each time you got a bath,
Except for the time you decided you could do it yourself,
Scaling the tub and taking the plunge fully clothed…shoes and all.
That day you also wore a smug expression of self-satisfaction.
I held your hand when you got a shot, and when you came out of anesthesia,
Quasi-delirious, asking me why I had two heads.
We held hands when we danced in the family room, danced until
We were out of breath, either from the moves, from the laughing, or both.
Your hand needed guiding when you first wrote your name in huge block letters,
And my hands over yours helped you figure out how to hold a baseball bat.
Next a golf club, and then a wrench to change the oil in your car.
With each new venture you were becoming more and more capable.
Learner’s permit in your pocket and flip flops on your feet,
I resisted taking hold of your hands when they were on the steering wheel.
“You’re doing fine,” I partially perjured myself. And you were, for starting out.
But that didn’t stop my adrenaline rush.
Taking your hand as you came down the steps of the baptistery,
My thoughts momentarily drifted to countless street crossings, and I realized that
You were making a crossing of another kind.
Crossing over. Old things had passed away; all things had become new.
When you were a child, it was the street crossings that had become the most frequent.
They had also become automatic.
It was a reflex action to reach for your hand when I stepped off a curb.
That’s why I did it even though you were in college when we crossed Broadway in New York City.
On that day, before we even made it to the other side, I wondered,
“How many more times will I hold her hand?”
It was, after all, superfluous. You were grown. You could cross by yourself,
But it still made me feel like a million bucks.
Like a puddle on a sunny day, time evaporated,
And even though I’d had my share, it was without warning
That I stood beside you in your white gown.
Ready, and yet not ready, to give you away.
Obliged by tradition, I offered my arm, but you didn’t respond.
Instead, with the potential to undo me, you said,
“Can you just hold my hand?”
It was still automatic, and we joined them without looking.
Just? Just hold your hand?
Without my knowing, it was what I needed,
Needed to bring me full circle…complete.
And together we walked through another milestone, hand-in-hand.
© 2011, Dave Willauer
Have a Happy Father's Day! "Cling to what is good." (Romans 12:9b)