Father's Day is coming up. Sunday, in fact. Well, it always is on Sunday.
Maybe that's why I'm thinking about my dad, and his dad, and all dads. I don't know if I would choose Sunday for Fathers' Day, if it were up to me.
Sunday was the day in my family where dad had little or no say about what was going on. Sunday was a day of rituals, and most of them revolved around the mothers in the family. Church, mainly something women were interested/compelled/obligated to attend -- but not really for spiritual reasons, because of community. And that's fine -- and then there was Sunday dinner.
In my family it was usually overcooked beef at my grandmother's house. Green beans figured in as well. And jello. Always the jello. For festive occasions there would be mushroom soup with the green beans, and marshmallows in the jello. Sometimes there would be "cool whip," that enticing and non-food sweet "topping" that everyone loved because it was cheap.
On good days we might play a rousing game of Password -- something I could never believe my grandmother actually loved, because English was her second language, and very few people outside of the family could understand her version of it. But love it she did, and play it we did. But there you go.
The fathers were fairly reluctant, but they went along. They stepped outside for some cigarettes and looked at a few car engines, or speculated about baseball or the price of gas, but they went along.
In those days, most mothers didn't work. But one of my grandmothers did, and she showed up at these occasions with her shoes polished, her gloves, her hat, and her pride.
The one who over-cooked the beef would say, "well, she goes out to business." Going out to business was the business of men, not women, in her view. But I think she was jealous.
But this is about fathers, not mothers or grandmothers.
Fathers had very prescribed job descriptions in those days. They went out to work (business or trades), and they came home to dinner cooked and kids ready for bed. They might get some time off on an occasional Friday night or Saturday afternoon, but mostly weekends were household repair, gardening, and the obligatory Sunday thing.
Today's Dads are different. Roles have shifted -- some dads stay home and take care of the kids, cook and clean, drive the carpool, still manage to garden and do household repairs. Moms may be the ones "going out to business," and bringing home the paycheck that makes it all work. My grandmother did that and she was way ahead of her time. But she never forgave her husband for being the one who wanted to stay at home, fix things, take care of the kid. Truth to tell, she was happier out there working, he would have been happier staying at home. But that marriage fell apart because it wasn't what society expected.
Today's Dads and Moms mostly make it all work, because they do it better, and more honestly than my parent's or grandparent's generation ever managed or imagined. They talk to one another, they make compromises about who does what, and they base their lives on the reality of who does what they want to do and what is feasible in today's economy. Doesn't make it easier -- it may be harder. The big societal seal of approval doesn't come to all of them -- because they don't fit a prescribed mold, they don't live in roles that restrict or constrain, or condemn -- or, very often, reward.
The bottom line is, today's Dad is better equipped to communicate, and often is better equipped to take on the housekeeping and child-rearing adventures once left only to women. And they often manage all of that with a great deal of style and competence. And there are those dads who take on a bigger share of raising children, cooking and cleaning when they do "work outside the home" than my parent's generation or grandparent's.
This is, after all, human history. We adapt, we reconfigure, and we celebrate.
So maybe this year, for Fathers Day, we can celebrate all of the different ways to be one.
And Dad, this is for you. I miss you, and I'm sorry you didn't get a little more room to be who you wanted to be outside of what was expected of you, and inside the home. In the end, inside the home is what it is all about. And I thank you for what you were able to do to stretch the boundaries as much as you possibly could.