In popular culture, fathers are often represented as overprotective tyrants, bumbling idiots or insensitive jerks with narcissistic tendencies. The theme of the absentee father runs rampant through sports, entertainment, news and comedy. Chris Rock famously performed a routine about fathers, lamenting that a father's only claim to fame is getting the "big piece of chicken." Rock's act was hilarious, but what he was alluding to was not funny. Rock was referring to society's predilection for skipping over the contributions that fathers make to their families.
Perhaps this oversight is due to society's insistence that children are a direct extension of women. Although women are overworked, underpaid and overburdened with their share of household, social and professional responsibilities, the belief persists that women are solely responsible for children. In addition, study after study suggests that the quality of life for women decreases significantly after they marry, more than that of men who marry. If one uses popular culture and conventional wisdom as barometers of the role of men in families, then it makes sense that those fathers who are nurturing, thoughtful, responsible and present, would get left out of the equation.
Perhaps the significant contribution of fathers is marginalized because men go about the business of being fathers without much fanfare. I remember my Uncle Keith once saying that he is a father everyday and did not need to participate in a march to proclaim his commitment to fatherhood or the community. He quietly went about the job of being a loving disciplinarian and provider who was committed to his family.
Uncle Keith is like most fathers that I know. Perhaps this is why I snicker whenever I hear a man say, "I take care of my kids," as if he should get some kind of medal. I often wonder to myself, if you have to say it, then are you really doing it? Taking care of your kids is not something for which one should be awarded, because it is the job of the parent, after all.
Although the definition of family is constantly changing, fathers are important. As someone who understands the significant role that my dad played in my life, I believe that it is critical for children to have strong relationships with their fathers or a father figure. I hate when people say that men are unnecessary. Yes, bad men (or women, for that matter) are unnecessary for the development of a child, but good men and women are necessary for success. Just as boys and girls need positive female role models, they also need positive male role models. Even in same-sex relationships, I believe that it is critical for children to be exposed to all genders as they are constructing their identities.
Fathers are often relegated to the bench when, in fact, good fathers are always in the starting lineup. It was my father who first told me that I could be anything that I wanted to be. He said told me I was brilliant and would be "number one." People often told him to stop "inflating" my head with such nonsense, but he was steadfast in his pronouncement that I would be successful at whatever I chose to do. Luckily, my mother tempered his proclamation with lessons about humility so that I would not indeed become self-centered and arrogant -- at least not in my mind. When I graduated as valedictorian of my high school and achieved success on multiple levels, he was never surprised. He just smiled knowingly. So, whenever someone compliments me on my success, I think of my father who instilled hard work and success as values and truly motivated me to be the best that I could be.
As someone who is equal parts mama's girl and daddy's girl, I relish the opportunity to tell the world how awesome my dad is as a man and a father. Like my mom, he is perfectly imperfect for me. He gives sound advice, is extremely supportive, admits his mistakes, and still manages to spoil me although I am a self-sufficient adult. He spoils me by being kind, available and having great conversations with me. Dad steps up when others step down, and that is why the love of a father is unmatched. Forget Hollywood films -- real dads stand up for you and insist that you stand up for yourself. He will tell you what you may not want to hear, but need to hear in order to move forward in life. Although some may disagree with me, my dad is pretty fantastic.
I have been so lucky that I am doubly blessed with a wonderful Godfather and tremendous male role models like my grandfathers, uncles and family friends. Fathers make a difference in the lives of their children. Contrary to popular belief, great fathers exist and make invaluable contributions to their families and society. Isn't it about time that we give them more than "the big piece of chicken?" This Father's Day, give dads all that they require -- love, kindness, quality time and respect.