June 17, 2005

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Will the real dad please stand up?

Dads seem to get short shrift, don’t they? They are the villains of middle-aged divorce, the clueless characters in sitcoms, the usual suspects in the perpetration of abuse in families. At least, that seems to be the impression we get from TV and the news.

Whatever happened to the caring patriarchal figure of yesteryear? You know, the Victorian dad who earned respect from his wife, his kids, his neighbors and servants? The William Powell character in Life with Father, always wise and in charge.

It seems that this kind of dad went out with a lot of other authority figures in the 1960s. Suddenly, his opinions and values were questionable. His reign as leader, mentor, inspirer ended and he was just another failed human being. Besides that, he didn’t fit many feminists’ notion of what the male ideal should be, considering that he didn’t even know he was supposed to have a “feminine side.”

But, wait. Like many of the old verities, the value of dad still exists. He may be glued to a laptop now, or wear an earring or belong to a fitness club, but he’s still the same old dad we’ve always loved.

Dads are generally larger and stronger than moms and kids so they still have the physical presence that demands some respect. They’re invaluable for opening tight jar lids or intimidating pushy techno-geeks trying to sell something expensive to teenage sons. Also, judging by the dads I’ve known, they seem to be able to drive long distances without the need for potty breaks or lowering the kids’ music.

Often, dads can unravel computer commands for the rest of us, diagnose the car’s latest idiosyncrasy, or explain, for the umpteenth time, why airplanes stay up in the air. If they don’t cook, they’re grateful for the food put in front of them and, if they do cook, they’re grateful when everyone stays out of their kitchen. In fact, the entire family is grateful.

Real dads are good for helping with math and chemistry homework, and sometimes even language problems. They’re willing to play catch for hours, set up basketball hoops, wax skis and do whatever a child’s sport requires. They coach Little League and CYO sports, and help with confirmation and Boy/Girl Scout projects.

Dads are dads because of moms, and therefore, being good to moms is one of their chief responsibilities. They tell her she’s pretty and smart, and that she cooks like a gourmet. They’re equally considerate to the mom who bore them and to the mom they married, not to mention all the mom-substitutes, such as aunties, teachers, kindly neighbors and the like.

Not only are real dads busy on the home front, they also work to help support their family. They educate themselves, find something they’re good at and enjoy then do the best job possible. They participate in church activities and take citizenship seriously. They set good examples for their kids, showing their boys how to be men and their girls the kind of man to look for as a husband.

Father Theodore Hesburgh, the president emeritus of the University of Notre Dame, once said that the best thing a man can do for his kids is to love their mother. In the end, that’s what real dads do best. Take my word for it, everything else will follow.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)


Local site Links: