It’s not enough that we do our best; sometimes we have to do what’s required.
~ Winston Churchill
You know that scene at the beginning of Mrs. Doubtfire? Robin Williams has just been canned, and he goes home with a carload of party goods and throws a neighborhood shindig for his kid’s birthday. Then, Sally Field comes home and ruins everything. What would you expect from a Flying Nun, right?
Anyway, we’re all supposed to grumble and side with Robin Williams and mutter disparagingly about Sally Field—that she’s too hung up on budgets and propriety and responsibility and grown-up stuff like that.
That’s what I thought back when I saw it long ago—back before marriage and seven kids and a mortgage and a fleet of run-down vehicles that average 100,000 miles each and break down with a remarkable regularity.
Turns out, Sally Field was right. We all need a Sally Field in our lives to set us straight—to tell us to get it right or get out, and then back it up with action.
And when I say “we,” of course, I mean guys.
My friend Nick sent me an article link from Cracked magazine the other day: “6 Harsh Truths That Will Make You a Better Person,” by David Wong. It was a shocker, in two ways. First, knowing Cracked magazine from my youth, I thought it was going to be an article about something scatological. It wasn’t, although it’s most definitely not family fare—somewhere between PG-13 and R, I’d say. Actually, make that a solid R.
The second shocker was that, despite the rough language and raunchy images, it was a remarkably profound, even wise, bit of writing. I read through it once, forwarded it to my oldest son, and then read through it again. It’s a gem.
Wong’s thesis is basically that life is hard, get used to it, and get off your duff. He has no patience for whiners who keep wishing for a job or a girlfriend or a life. Wong tells them—us, or rather, me—to shut up and go do something to make those things happen! It’s great advice. It’s Flying Nun advice. Frankly, it’s dad advice.
Now, cut to my drive home recently: The radio is on, the classic rock song fades, and a cheery PSA materializes—sounds like a commercial for the Mormon church, or maybe a cholesterol drug or something. Turns out, it’s Uncle Sam advertising something called “fatherhood.gov,” a website promoting responsible fatherhood.
Really. I heard it, I promise: For more information, go to fatherhood.gov.
Wow. I mean, the PSA was sweet, and it’s emphasis on fathers being involved and engaged with their children could make a difference with some guys. And I checked out the website—lots of good stuff and good ideas there. That’s all to the good.
But “fatherhood.gov”? Give me a break. By the way, there is no “motherhood.gov.”
I have enough experience with bureaucracies to know that fathers don’t rate with our “gov.” When the “gov” is involved, official correspondence and forms are always addressed to the mom, and dads seem to be tolerated and included to the degree that they make a nuisance of themselves.
The real kicker is the exclusion of fathers from vital decision-making when it comes to their children. And when I say vital, I mean vital. Dads have zero say in the ultimate fatherly function of protecting his children, for moms are granted exclusive rights when it comes to deciding whether their unborn babies live or die. Men have no say. None.
But that’s besides the point. What I want to emphasize here is that a federally sponsored effort to promote responsible fatherhood could never promote the kind of advice that David Wong provides. But that’s exactly what our kids need today—at least my kids do. Yes, they need me to play catch with them in the park, and maybe tag and hide-and-seek. But they also need me to tell them to quit whining and get to work.
That assumes that I’ve quit whining myself and have gotten to work—also something the feds can’t exactly promote in a PSA.
I can’t locate it right now, but somewhere in our Rubbermaid bins is an old Luann comic I saved that sums all this up nicely. It’s entitled, “The Difference Between Moms and Dads,” and the first panel shows Luann complaining to her mom that she has a sore throat. The mom responds by insisting that Luann stay home from school and get into bed, where she’ll be pampered and catered to all day. The second panel shows Luann making the same complaint to her dad: “My throat’s kinda sore.” His response as he’s heading out the door is brief: “Mine too. Suck a lozenge.”
That’s fatherhood in a nutshell. Can fatherhood.gov sell that? I don’t think so.