With Thanksgiving just around the corner and me being the overly opinionated fellow I fancy myself to be on occasion, I think the unwritten Internet rules state that I’m obligated to write a Thanksgiving post of some sort. Here it is.
Gabby, my sister, my mom, and I were watching home movies earlier tonight at Mom’s house. We covered a span of about four years in the 90 minutes that we watched and intermittently fast-forwarded through. Our family went from being one with two kids, then to three kids, then to four kids, and cycled through two different dogs, a cat, and numerous holiday events with even more wonderful family members at those events.
It was pretty great. I was between the ages of 5-9ish in the block of videos we watched. I remember a lot of it, but some of it I don’t. I remembered most of the holiday events, a lot of the Christmas presents, camping trips, assorted birthdays, my birthday from 1998 with presents that I still have, random times when all of the cousins came over, New Year’s Eve 1997 at the cousins’ house, the old wallpaper at Grandma’s house, and the fond memories of Billie (the best chocolate lab ever in world history).
I remembered a lot of it.
But what struck me most was what I didn’t remember right away:
Dad reading The Night Before Christmas to my brother and me in his classic, rhythmless, slam-poetry-style rap. Dad playing hide-and-seek at midnight with my brother and me on multiple occasions. Dad being overjoyed at getting a child-sized plastic football helmet for Christmas and somehow managing to put it on his giant head. Dad counting my then-baby brother’s teeth while inside his booth at the county fair. Dad helping my brothers and I put on matching ties for Easter. Dad setting up various campsites. Dad and us kids on top of a roof he was replacing. Dad changing my brother’s diaper. Dad and us all fishing, with him somehow being able to fish himself while simultaneously managing the poles of three kids. Dad helping present a tornado-in-a-bottle at a home school science fair. Dad flirting with mom in typical parent-style awkwardness. Dad bear hugging us kids and that morphing into us wrestling on the carpet with Billie piling on with enough slobber for everyone. Dad and us kids taking karate classes at the YMCA. Dad recording us kids in bed with mom at the hospital while she was introducing us to our new baby sister just after she was born.
I remembered all of that, too, but it took a second for it to come back.
This year, amidst all the shenanigans of 2020, I’m thankful for having a dad that was present when my siblings and I were growing up.
I’ve read a few books on marriage and family dynamics, and they all have one major thing in common: A father who is present and active in the lives of their children is the single best predictor for the future success and wellness of those children.
Don’t worry, I’m not trying to detract from Mom’s role in all of this. Being the stay-at-home and home school mom that she was, she was present for legitimately all of the things that occurred…and then some. Besides, she was the one operating the camcorder (#throwback).
This also isn’t to detract from Dad’s numerous personality quibbles. Even though he was a very active dad, he was and still is a profoundly flawed person, just like everyone else. And I’ve informed him of most of those flaws at one time or another; sometimes it was warranted, most of the time not so much.
Also, none of this is intended to invalidate or hope to alter any the avalanche of life and countless plot twists that have happened since the much simpler era of the 1990s and early 2000s.
But my siblings and I had what many other kids didn’t have: A present and active father (and mother) during the formative years of our lives.
Perhaps I’m feeling overly sentimental because we’re entering the holiday season and I was watching home movies. Perhaps it’s because Gabby is pregnant and I’m trying to decipher how this “fatherhood” thing works.
Regardless, I’m thankful for the example Dad set for us and also for a mom who was (and still is) incredibly sentimental and had the inclination to record it all.
From The Meaning of Marriage by Robert P. George and Jean Bethke Elshtain:
What a boy gets from experiencing the dependable love of a father is a deep personal experience of masculinity that is pro-social, pro-woman, pro-child, and not at odds with love. Without this personal experience of maleness, a boy (who like all human beings is deeply driven to seek some meaning for masculinity) is vulnerable to a variety of peer and market-driven alternative definitions of masculinity, often grounded in real gender differences in aggression, physical strength, and sexual proclivities.
The importance of a father in giving a boy a deeply pro-social sense of his own masculinity may be one reason why one large national study found that boys raised outside of intact marriages were two to three times more likely to commit a crime leading to imprisonment. Similarly, a girl raised without a father does not come to adolescence with the same deep experience of what male love feels like when it is truly protective, not driven primarily by a desire for sexual gratification. At the same time, fatherless girls may experience a hunger for masculine love and attention that leaves her particularly vulnerable to use and abuse by young adult males. (Girls raised without fathers are at high risk for unwed motherhood.)
Gendered differences in response to father absence are themselves affirmation that gender is a deeply important human category. Indeed sexual orientation as a concept presumes that gender exists and is an important category for human relationships. It would be odd to presume (as the gay parenting debate often does) that gender is all-important to adult romantic relationships, but has no significance at all in the hungry love a child feels for his or her parents.The Meaning of Marriage: Family, State, Market, & Morals . Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.