Fatherhood.gov? Really?

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?

robinAnyway, 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.

What?

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.48a358b02b3c375fed2223270c084e58

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.
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5 Comments

  1. I don’t think your section on exclusive rights is besides the point. I think it’s exactly the point. If we’re supposed to man up as fathers to treat our children right, how about allowing us to stand up to give our children life.

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  2. Jennifer

     /  September 23, 2013

    I think the reason there is no motherhood.gov is that it would be perceived as patriarchal, and by definition, then, evil. Feminism sought to destroy the patriarchy, and now we all live with the unintended consequences of that. (I shudder to think that this is the world *intended* by feminists.) You put it well, as does Jason in the first comment.

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  3. Alicia

     /  September 24, 2013

    Rick, good article. The bit about dads’ role in vital decisions is tragic. But to the part about Luann, I hate to admit it, but in our house I’m the one who would say suck the lozenge. My poor kids!

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  4. Bruce Almighty

     /  January 10, 2016

    Fatherhood.gov? So presumptuous and condescending. They should have simply called it parenthood.gov. Gender has no bearing on how much a parent loves or nurtures their children, nor does gender insure against mistakes. I’m a single Dad who has custody of my child more than half-time. Not because my ex is a bad mother, in fact, I think she’s a very good Mom. It just works out that I’m better in a better position time-wise. I cook, I make school lunches, I help with homework, I plan birthday parties, etc. Typical parent stuff. I think I do a pretty good job, as my kid is polite, empathetic, and a good student. I get sick and tired of the stereotypical bumbling father depicted on TV, etc. It’s BS.

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    • John Green

       /  March 12, 2017

      I do the same on a full time basis beside my day time job. An yes my Ex do not care about the kids and would see them once or a twice a year despite she lives 15 to 20 minutes away. So, the idea that dads are not doing their share or better is just myth from by side of the world and the government would be better spending money and energy doing some thing else than giving us lessons

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