Commit Father’s Day To Creating New Identity Of Manliness

A great flaw in American consumerist society is that which capitalizes on important moments and trivializes them to mere dollars and cents. It becomes difficult to celebrate meaningful days like Father’s Day when year after year our only association with it is bland gestures and weeks long advertising campaigns on television to “get dad something special this year.” I challenge everyone on this Father’s Day to step out of the corporate narrative of fatherhood based only on Hallmark cards or golf-outings, and consider the simple privilege of existing and give thanks.

Whether you will be spending it with your old man or not, there is reason to celebrate. Even in the absence of the person who the day celebrates, you can be more thoroughly grateful of him than you ever could be in his presence. Our fathers do not gift us with an instruction book to follow, but an empty pad on which we paint our own pictures, write our own story and erase our own mistakes.

When with us, our fathers are a constant. They merely exist alongside us. Though we may admire or appreciate them, we grow and age parallel to each other. And so we are never fully able to understand them — and they are unable to fully understand us. We are after all, different men. Fatherhood, manhood is not fixed. It shifts and adapts to time and circumstance. Thus it is our duty as sons not just to pass the torch to our own, but extinguish and re-light the flame according to our own ideal. Living or not, we will never fully escape the inevitable restraints fatherhood places on us. We have acquired both good qualities and bad that will, to varying extents, dictate our actions and worldview throughout life without the possibility of our ever becoming conscious of them. This we cannot control. Whether our fathers were great men or pitiful, we should never seek to fully liberate ourselves from them. Nor should we idly follow their footsteps into the grave. As sons and men whose purpose it is to grow and develop, we must conduct ourselves based on the ideal manhood we aspire to.

A harmful strain in American manliness has begun to surface in the last few decades and is made most apparent by mass shootings, depression, the #MeToo movement, or the boastful misogyny of President Trump. Too many men, and indeed society at large have fallen victim to the wrong variation of manhood characterized by only violence, emotional repression, the domination of women, physical toughness and primal competition with other men. These shortcomings in male society are commonly attributed to either an absence of fathers or an over-idolization of the wrong type of father figure in popular culture. While often true, that does not absolve our responsibility as sons to create a new identity of manliness that relies on the critical yet wholly underappreciated role that our mothers, sisters and grandmothers play in our character. Any great father would not be so without the influence of, and appreciation for both the men and women in their lives.

We are indebted to our fathers just as they were indebted to theirs before them. If you’ve had the misfortune of never having a father, or a man worthy of that title to celebrate on this day, do not despair or envy. You merely have a smaller debt to repay directly to the man who created you. You have a unique freedom greater than those who had or still have a father. Using the inspiration of other men and women in your lives, you can construct for yourself what it means be a man in a family, a city, a country, the world. Your pad contains the most blank pages.

My dad passed away four years ago only a few weeks before Father’s Day. Yet I find myself infinitely more grateful with each one passed than those I spent with him. The saying, “you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone” is not quite accurate. To those who have lost their fathers — we know less and less as each day passes and memory fades. We have the extraordinary benefit of both having a father and being able to recognize that as an increasingly distant memory. We know what we had while they were here and now we must discover how live while they are not. We would trade anything for their presence on this day but are left with no choice but to capitalize on their absence.

Finally, if you have the privilege of spending today with a loving and admirable father, step outside the Home Depot grill ads and corny mugs to truly look at your father and consider what he has given to you both good and bad–and be equally grateful. Give him a hug and say thanks. Not because he’ll be gone someday, but because you will. Sons and fathers, we are ultimately different and flawed men. So whether they are here or not, we cannot live according to what would make them proud as is the inevitable temptation. We must live according to our own ideals based in part on their character and do what we can for the next generation of sons and daughters in the uncertain amount of time we all have left. Thanks dads!

Derek Smith is a Frewsburg resident.