My father gave me what too many girls nowadays ruin themselves for lacking: A strong, loving, steady masculine presence. It’s inconceivable what I would be like without him. So, before I explain why my dad’s story is bigger than us, let me brag on him a little. It’s Father’s Day weekend, after all.
Dad’s presence in my life kept me safe from many things my girlfriends put themselves through in frantic search of a man’s love. And my dad’s love was tangible, more acted out than spoken. He didn’t just say he loved us. His life repeatedly proved it. I never worried where my next meal would come from, because my father woke in the wee hours of many mornings to toil in sandy Wisconsin fields and breathe asthma-inducing corn dust as he fixed and re-fixed the grain bins. I’ve been lucky enough to marry the first man I’ve ever kissed (although not the first I dated). I didn’t feel much pressure to let guys touch me, or even date around before I was ready, because my dad not only gave boys those guard-dog looks and those looks let me know he considered me too precious to give out easily. He didn’t have to say it. He just had to look it. Maturity has opened my eyes to see that dad’s steady, loving pressure saved me from so many kinds of confusion and pain in romantic relationships. That’s what dads are supposed to do, of course, but it’s the exceptional man who fulfills his duty.
When people doesn’t ask much of you, life seems less valuable. Dad’s high expectations taught me self-discipline, self-respect, and a work ethic. They also cultivated my tastes towards what is good—because he and mom limited our candy intake and TV time, for example, I don’t crave either much as an adult, which saves me a lot of dental bills, health problems, and timewasting. I accomplish a lot most days, thanks to my dad’s example and demands, and this habit gives me a lot of satisfaction. Parents are the cultivators of those soft skills many children lack nowadays, such as the ability to defer gratification (which increases intelligence and life success). Dads, particularly, teach children physical and social boundaries and help prevent depression and low self-worth, through classic activities as simple as horseplay.
Men Are Fading
My dad is one of those classic men you don’t see much in movies any more—the strong, silent types who nevertheless feel deeply inside. It took me until high school to notice when he teared up, or to learn that sometimes he was silent not because he had nothing to say, but because his feelings had outgrown his words. Many people are like that, but it takes knowing some to discover that side of humanity. In a world that values oversharing over restraint, people like dad get the social shaft.
This may seem like an article about just my dad. It is that, of course, since I and all people only have one father, who deeply shapes how we each think of fatherhood. But it is also about how my dad expresses or represents an archetype not just of dads, but of what it means to be male. This basic idea, so enduring throughout human history and established with creation, is receding into the distance. But to lose a conception of fatherhood is to lose something about what it means to be human; if we lose it entirely, a part of humanity will die.
My dad is a man in a woman-oriented culture. He’s obviously not the only one. Allow me to use some archetypes of male and female behavior to make a few observations, with the understanding that individual men and women don’t always fit the archetypes.
My father, who grew into then spun off from the family farm business and now manages several enterprises, is a doer, not a talker. That seems to be common among men, and it is certainly a dominant-enough personality style across the human race. Yet the entire business world is saturated in chatty-Kathy-style “collaboration,” “buzz-building,” and “consensus-building.” My dad doesn’t have time for such frippery. He’s busy getting the job done.
This business style has seeped into the education system (or maybe it’s the other way around), which the Brits and Aussies have recognized needs to change so boys stop getting left behind, but so far Americans are pretty much ignoring that growing problem. Schools ban competition, comparisons, hierarchy, objective answers, concrete subjects and grading systems, and more male-friendly features. When society pushes female-dominated activities and behaviors—such as talking (and overtalking), hovering over children, aversion to risk, collective decisionmaking, consensus-building—we push men to either strike back at such attempts to deny their manhood or retreat into their stinky man caves. But we don’t have to promote such bipolar behavior. We can reclaim the truth that, when we’re not fighting for power, men and women complete each other.
The Male-Female Tao
My dad and mom balance each other the way men and women are supposed to in marriage. For one, mom absolved our faults, and dad made us see that forgiveness is no excuse for perpetual transgression. Together, they provided us tender love and tough love. Everyone needs both, because tender love without tough love becomes a chaotic free-for-all, which inflicts its own pain, while tough love without tenderness frays the soul. Without either half, a person and a society loses its balance.
Today, our society leans too far towards femininity. Children at large suffer less from a lack of fun or self-esteem than they do a lack of discipline, work ethic, and respect. Curiously enough, the latter are the character traits dads, like my father and husband, are particularly good and focused at instilling in their children. When we deny men the ability to express their masculinity, we stunt a society that desperately needs fathers who tell kids to speak respectfully to mother, get out of bed on time in the morning, and eat their dinner or they’ll sit at the table until they do.
These are not just idle requirements. You know that “skills gap” everyone keeps complaining about during our economic doldrums, where the jobs available can’t find qualified employees? Employers’ major complaints are that they can’t get people to show up on time, pass a drug test, or work hard once hired. Maybe far too many moms have restrained far too many dads from pouncing their teens out of bed in the morning. Or maybe far too many dads can’t do that because they’re not living with their kids.
Well, my father did, bless him. I still remember with a twinge him stalking about our farmhouse halls in what I thought was the wee hours of the morning, whistling like a gleeful torturer straight from Dante’s inferno. I remember him insisting we would read the Bible together. That is of eternal benefit for me, given research shows “It is the religious practice of the father of the family that, above all, determines the future attendance at or absence from church of the children.” I remember dad making my brothers scoot out the door every morning to milk the family cow.
I’m not going to lie. It was mostly annoying back then. Like all middle-schoolers, I thought I was so persecuted because I had to do homework before I was allowed to play. But now that I’m not as stupid as I was then, I’m very grateful. And now that I’m a parent myself, I realize how annoying it was for dad to dutifully keep on us all the time when he would surely rather be out on his tractor doing something productive.
But his fathering was productive. Kids just take a lot longer to cultivate than potatoes and chickens.
Thanks, dad, for giving me what I needed, regardless of whether society confirmed my need for you. Neither presents nor words can say it sufficiently: Happy Father’s Day.