Being raised in an all-female, post-divorce household, I was part of the man-hater's club that believed men were incapable of "real" parenting skills. Just look at our culture and see how commercials, movies, and cartoons frequently paint fathers as loveable, but incompetent nitwits.
Now that I am the mother of four sons, ages 8, 13, 17, and 18, who will someday be in this role, I feel the need to give Papas back their John Wayne meets Father Knows Bestness, starting with my own husband.
Of course he has his moments that are worthy of a sitcom. An example might be putting a timid autism spectrum eight-year-old who just learned how to swim out in the ocean, tethered via his little ankle to a “supertanker” Dewy Weber surfboard and launching him onto a wave without a life jacket, alone!
I didn't learn this story all at once, mind you, but in jubilant pieces from the child when he jetted in the front door and began to disrobe in a sandy trail of tale.
"Pop tied me to the big board and the leash wouldn't come offa my ankle and I got dragged under and had to not panic," Quin, 8, crowed. "And then I didn't drown! Pop is awesome !"
In my entire vocabulary, the word "awesome" was not even a distant competitor for the space following the words "Pop is." My top pics were: bonkers and doomed.
Yet who could argue with the glow of accomplishment on our youngest son's face? He was empowered. He was stoked. He was trailing sand all over my floors because my husband doesn't believe in towels, snacks, chairs, or umbrellas at the beach. My husband packs for a day at the beach by checking to see if he has his surf wax.
"Awesome," I said to my son. "So you had a good time?" To which he answered the same exact pronouncement he has always made each and every time my spouse has taken the boys on an adventure, "It was the best day ever!"
However, the boys never, ever want to go on a Papa outing. They dimly recall the fear, pain, small injuries, and emotional trauma associated with "adventure time." My husband is always forced to bluster and insist until they capitulate. He laments this, groaning what all good fathers groan at such times, "I failed them. Where did I go wrong?"
Somehow they always come back in exaltation, having mastered something new and we can only assume death-defying. Then it's always "awesome." I think this is akin to the way women "forget" the pain of child birth and go ahead and have several more, as I did. Boys would never grow into men if they didn't have that nagging feeling that the adventures with Papa were going to be dicey, but worth the x-factors in exchange for bragging rights. I often stumble upon a whispered conversation, smothered laughter, among the boys that includes the words, "Remember that time Papa made us..."
My still boyishly handsome 48-year-old husband with his too-long-to-be-a-professional-adult blond hair, sails small terrifying boats in races come rain, shine, darkness, or leakage. We lived aboard a sailboat with the first two sons and sailed from New Jersey to the Gulf coast of Florida and lived like hippies for five years.
He rushes out to surf with dolphins that I think are sharks. When there's a hurricane he walks the boys to the river's edge to see the gleam off the teeth of the storm. He hikes, bikes and is the front page designer for a daily newspaper, which I see as the most life-threatening of his passions.
He and our four sons have a love/hate relationship over the outings and yard chores, as is common with strong male personalities all under one roof.
While I razz his methods and their apparent madness, I admit they are worth every drop of sweat wrung from me these past 18 years.
My own parents divorced when I was 10, my brother was 5. My brother was raised in a loving home full of attentive females. My mother commuted to work from New Jersey to New York. At home my grandmother, great-grandmother and I all raised my little brother like a flock of nervous hens.
Last week my brother went to jail for the second time. He went to jail for allegedly beating my 81-year-old mother. That isn't because of anything my mother and our women did wrong or failed to do. It's what my father did and didn't do that manifested this. It is the example he set. My father taught that women were worthless, but worth hitting in times of frustration.
My husband teaches our sons, "Help your mother" and "Don't speak to your mother in that tone, she's my girlfriend." My boys would protect me like lion kings and I have my husband to thank for setting them on the path to being good men.
While I realize that could sound like an indictment of single mothers in the world, the truth is that it's an endorsement for good fatherhood. It's a standing ovation for fathers who take time to teach kids to play chess, an instrument, or to do homework. It’s a trophy for dads who spend time with their little girls doing all those same things and teaching them that girls can do anything. It’s the raw genius of letting kids get wet and muddy doing things that make this mom pale.
As I buy more sunscreen, bandages, towels and once again remind my spouse to take his cell and check in with me, I know in my heart that all the worrying means I can relax. The boys are in good hands with their Papa because he's one of those men who knows Father's Day is everyday.