Daddyism: A Few Thoughts for Father's Day

Fathers’ Day is coming. You forgot. You remembered. You’ve sent a card; you sprung for a present. You’re going over to see him. He lives too far away. You’ll call him. He died recently. He died when you were young. You love him. You hate him. You can’t figure him out. You’re mad at him and you don’t want to hear about Fathers’ Day.

Thinking about fathers can push a lot of our buttons. Some kinds of thinking about fathers can keep us from ever growing up—can keep us from taking control of our private and our public lives.

Like expecting them to know everything, do everything, be everything. Well, maybe some fathers live up to that, but the other 99.9% aren’t perfect. More likely they’re just doing the best they can and sometimes that’s good and sometimes it’s less than good and sometimes it’s a real mess. They’re just people.

Expecting, demanding so much of Dad, being disappointed and angry when he doesn’t come through—these are not just family issues. These are political issues of the first magnitude.

I was on the other side of the earth when I began to see how serious those political ramifications can be. In Moscow, talking day after day with Soviet citizens about the crisis there, I began to feel that the USSR was suffering from a possibly terminal case of Daddyism. There were wise, strong-spirited people doing their best to make perestroika work, but they were far outnumbered by those I could only describe as brats-having-a-temper-tantrum: “I want it. I want it now. Give it to me.” And what were they willing to do to make it happen? Would they stick their necks out? Would they take on some of the responsibility for making things better? Was I crazy? He—Gorbachev—was responsible. They demanded that he come through for them, that he make a miracle, alone. That he be the perfect Daddy.

Obviously, we on these shores are not immune to such brattiness. It may well be a plague on the entire human species. Are humans saying in every language, “They should do something about this mess”? Since most of the “theys” in this world are still men (unless you live in Norway), “They” usually means adult, middle-aged men, men who remind us of our fathers. “They” must chase the monsters away and come up with the answers to all our questions. If “They” can’t manage that, we’ll just have a little tantrum here. In a democracy, we can throw the bums out and put in a new set—until they fail us too. Meanwhile, we don’t have to do anything ourselves to make the monsters go away; we don’t have to seek out our own answers to our questions.

Wouldn’t it be an incredible gift to the all fathers of the world—the ones in our families and the ones in our capitals and in our city halls—if we just grew up? We could give them the gift of understanding that they’re just people, that they can’t do it all for us, that we have to stick our own necks out to make our world what we want it to be. Dad can’t make the world perfectly safe and comfortable for you and neither can the President or the governor or any of the other men you think are running your world. The world isn’t always a safe and comfortable place—grownups understand that. Grownups know that nobody else is responsible for their fates. There is no “Them.” There is only us. And that’s enough.

Happy Fathers’ Day.

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