Earlier this week, I found myself scrolling through my Facebook memories–you know, that “On this day…” feature that pops up about every third time you log in–because around this time of year it is filled with newborn pictures of my kids. As it happened, that day was the anniversary of my first or second Father’s Day. Among the memories were several Dad’s Day posts I had been tagged in and others of similar nature. In one, a friend had praised me generously for “doing a great job with that little man.” It must have been my second Father’s Day, when “that little man” was just a year old.
I couldn’t help but laugh a little. I don’t want to discount the challenges of new parenthood, but let’s be real. That first year was cake. Yes, there were diapers and some crying and some very tense moments when I pleaded late at night for my little larval human to just be reasonable, but being a good dad to an infant really just means keeping the kid alive and well fed and being willing to clean up a lot of messes and lose some sleep. It ain’t rocket surgery, folks. As long as you can figure out that the onesie goes button-side down, you’ll probably do all right.
To provide some context for my amusement, here are some other things that happened that same day: I sent my four year-old son to his room for standing on the arm of the couch and jumping onto the little trampoline his sister got for her birthday; when I went up to talk to him about why he shouldn’t do that, he offered such gems as, “I don’t want to be a good listener, because a good listener is a bad listener,” and “Being happy isn’t good. What does happy mean?” In the morning he cried because I told him we were going to brush his teeth. In the evening he cried because I told him if he was too tired to be nice he could straight to bed and wouldn’t even need to brush his teeth; the crying was because he did not want to get a cavity. He refused to eat the chicken he asked for at lunch and stopped eating his rice when I asked him to use his fork because he was dropping half of it on the floor using his fingers. He continued to refuse the same chicken at dinner because “it tastes like dirt,” even though he always eats this chicken, had eaten it for dinner two nights before, and–once again–had asked for it at lunch before deciding that at that time it was too soft… or something.
A year into this lifelong adventure, I certainly did feel like I was doing great. I hope I still am. This isn’t really about me, though. What I’m noticing, through my admittedly limited lens, is that the public praise that dads get is heaped on early and then seems to diminish as the job gets really tough–unless Dad does something amazing like building a rollercoaster or Ninja Warrior-style obstacle course in the backyard. (I could say parents here instead of just dads, but my focus here is on dads specifically.) As a teacher who accepts Facebook requests from former students once they’ve graduated high school, I’ve seen many young mothers over the years post pictures of many young fathers. It goes the same way every time: the picture is of the proud new dad laying, generally asleep and often still in the hospital, with the tightly swaddled newborn comfy on his chest. Accompanying the picture is an assurance to all that he is the best–or possibly even the perfect–father, and both mother and child are so lucky to have him. This is all well and good. Good for him for showing up, and good for young mom for appreciating him. I wouldn’t take that early joy and love from anyone; it is positively life-changing and life-affirming.
All I want to say is let’s not forget to show our appreciation for the daily work of dadhood a few years on, or a few more after that, when he’s trying to instill morals in a young person whose brain doesn’t know how to consider other people’s feelings yet, learning all about things that never interested him in order to fully participate in his child’s life and encourage their curiosity, finding the delicate balance between sharing his own interests with and forcing them on his children, being a teacher and a life coach and a playmate and a referee and a role model all in a moment. Let’s remember to praise and thank dads, and indeed all parents, when they’re slugging through the hard parts, the parts that require them to access the best of their character and judgment to be the kind of person they want their kids to grow to be.
Other dads out there, I see you. I see you making the hard choices, giving yourselves up to the job of parenting, putting on that brave face or that happy face or that silly face when you’re scared or unsure or just plain tired, working hard, making those dad jokes. And this Father’s Day, I raise my glass to every dad who makes this look easy. You’re doing great.