So many men I meet in my practice struggle to communicate their true feelings, and therefore, often fail to connect to their children. They often believe (mistakenly) that conforming to expectations — of stoicism, respect, relevance, being a provider, or a ‘man’s man’ — is somehow devoid of vulnerability. Because of this belief system, men find that their relationships with their children and loved ones are often defined and confined by unmet expectations and disappointment. This is not how it was intended, nor how how it needs to be.
With Father’s Day just around the corner, our national calendar encourages some form of observance of the day, but what that day represents is open to debate. For example, the conception of Mother’s Day was a lofty thing, rooted in post-Civil War reconciliation, in honoring mothers and the sacrifices they make for their children, and even in fostering world peace (History.Com Editors, 2019). Father’s day, on the other hand, was not rooted in anything of the like.
Coming around decades after Mother’s Day, Father’s Day had several early iterations, widely represented. There was a one-time Sunday service in remembrance of a mining disaster that killed 250 fathers from a single small community in West Virginia in 1908 (History.Com Editors, 2019). There was also a multi year effort in Spokane, WA to honor fathers by a grateful daughter of a widower in the early 1900s (Chamberlin, n.d.). Several presidents attempted various connections with the idea of Father’s Day, but the constant driving force wasn’t tragedy, conviction, political aspiration, or world peace. Rather, the Father’s Day Council, founded by the New York Associated Men’s Wear Retailers, pushed for it to “consolidate and systematize the commercial promotion of the holiday” (Schmidt, , 1995, p. 275).
With underpinnings like that, it can be easy to see how neck ties, socks, barbecue tools, and paperweights are often the sole focus of the day, and then, just as quickly as we blink, we find ourselves getting back to business as usual. In fact, retailers have so successfully intertwined Father’s Day and commercialism that 2019 is expected to net $15.3 billion dollars of projected spending (National Retail Federation, 2018). The great irony in this, though, is that the same advertisers who succeeded in capitalizing on a day ostensibly intended to honor fathers, often did so through the promotion of tropes portraying fathers in ways that diminish the role, rather than build them up. “Many TV sitcom and [advertisement] dads are portrayed as selfish, senseless and overwhelmingly uninterested in their family,” and/or simply bumblingly foolish (Media Smarts, 2013, p. 2). Think about Homer Simpson (The Simpsons), Al Bundy (Married with Children), Peter Griffin (Family Guy), Phil Dunphy (Modern Family), etc.. Unfortunately, it’s not hard to conjure a picture of a father who has fallen short.
And yet, in spite of this, or perhaps because of it, the power and impact of a loving, consistent father cannot be denied. I recently heard a pastor make the point that thieves never counterfeit pennies. Rather, they focus on items of value — $100 dollar bills, jewels, and priceless art — to impersonate. By this reasoning, the prevalence of negative or fictional fatherly stereotypes should not be the currency we duplicate and aim for. These images distort and diminish the role of a dad. Rather, let’s emphasize and affirm the traits and value of the positive characteristics of fathers. Let’s look to duplicating the best examples and glean wisdom from them. Even scripture agrees, placing high value on fathers, and depicting God, first and foremost, as a loving Father. While the gifts are nice, and being celebrated by one’s family (or celebrating one’s own father figures) are worthy things, Father’s Day serves its highest purpose when fathers and families are reminded to grow and nourish relationships that generate priceless connection above and beyond pricy gifts.
An author once wrote of parenting that the role is one of self sacrifice for the sake of another. It is “this atmosphere of purpose and design that children were intended to grow up in” where “their childhood becomes a time of exposure to heavenly values that become a blueprint of relationships” (Johnson & Johnson, 2018, p. 28). If this can be understood as “ideal,” and therefore intended for children, Father’s Day then becomes a call to action; a call to live in a way that models healthy relationships, not bumbling or broken ones. Wherever you may find yourself with your own kids (or your relationship with your own father) on the continuum of parenting success, it is never too late to do the next right thing. Large changes happen slowly. By being more committed to the future you desire with your dad or your children (rather than the your past with them), you can light the spark for something miraculous.
We have a saying in our house: “The first to apologize is the bravest. The first to forgive is the strongest. The first to forget is the happiest.” What if, instead of tending barbecues, disappearing behind newspapers (or screens), or allowing marketing teams and consumerism to define fatherhood by the dollars spent or the gifts received, we viewed the success of Father’s Day by our determination to be the “bravest,” the “strongest,” and the “happiest.” Now that is a blueprint worth copying!
Every father is capable of reaching out for help and guidance, whether through counseling, mentor friends, ministries, reading, or other avenues of encouragement. Resources like Dr. Michelle Watson’s “The Abba Project,” or Terra Mattson’s book, Courageous (2018), serve to empower dads and moms to be code breakers of their daughters’ needs. Rather than being overwhelmed by their enigma, let’s focus intently on how to love our children best. Marital resources and couples counseling serve to restore unity in the parenting dyad and professional counseling can serve to dismantle the walls that prevent us from being the fathers, the lovers, the parents, sons (or daughters) we truly want to be. If this resonates with you, make this Father’s Day (June 16th) the day you reach out for assistance in becoming the person you want to be, regardless of who you fear you may have become.
Written by Alex Rankin, MS, LPC, LMFT Intern
Chamberlin, K. (n.d.). Reader’s Digest: Culture. Retrieved May 23, 2019, from Reader’s Digest: https://www.rd.com/culture/history-of-fathers-day/
History.Com Editors. (2019, February 5). Father’s Day 2019. (A & E Television Network) Retrieved May 23, 2019, from History: https://www.history.com/topics/holidays/fathers-day
Johnson, B., & Johnson, B. (2018). Raising Giant Killers. Ada, MI, USA: Baker Publishing Group.
Mattson, LPC, LMFT, T. (2018). Courageous: Rasing Daughters Rooted in Grace. US: Living Wholehearted Publishing.
Media Smarts. (2013). Media Smarts: Lesson Plans. Retrieved May 23, 2019, from Media Smarts.ca: http://mediasmarts.ca/sites/mediasmarts/files/pdfs/lesson-plan/Lesson_TVDads_Immature_Irresponsible.pdf
National Retail Federation. (2018, May 30). National Retail Federation: Press Releases. Retrieved May 23, 2019, from nrf.com: https://nrf.com/media-center/press-releases/fathers-day-spending-reach-near-record-153-billion
Schmidt, , L. E. (1995). Consumer Rites: The Buying & Selling of American Holidays. Princeton, NJ, USA: Princeton University Press.
Watson, M. (n.d.). The Abba Project. Retrieved May 23, 2019, from Dr. Michelle Watson: http://www.drmichellewatson.com/theabbaproject
Wikipedia Editors. (2019, May 17). Wikipedia. Retrieved May 23, 2019, from Wikipedia.com: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Father%27s_Day_(United_States)#cite_note-12
Written by Alex Rankin, MS, LPC, LMFT Intern