Happy Mother’s AND Father’s Day to me
It was a disagreement that did not sit well with me. Talking with my boyfriend who never knew his father and was reared by his mother, I commented how I like it when children growing up with single moms celebrate their mothers on Father’s Day. “Yeah, my mom always wanted me to do that growing up. I never liked it,” my bf said. “She didn’t do what a father does; no mom can,” and that was that. I deliberately chose not to press him on the matter because I felt heat rise in my face, a tell-tale sign when I’m getting angry. We were on the phone, so I quickly got off and blamed it on work.
And our conversation got me to thinking what defines a father from a mother. Clearly in a two parent, two gender household the differences are clear. Mothers are different from Fathers in so much as Mom is different from Dad, but I don’t think any family decides that Mom isn’t so much Motherly if she’s into sports and Dad isn’t so much Fatherly if he stays home with the kids. In whole family homes, you just celebrate mom and dad on their respective days and why put any more thought into it than that? Mom gets celebrated on her day and Dad gets celebrated on his, and everyone is happy.
But for the single parent, Mother’s or Father’s Day takes on a whole new meaning. And I don’t mean the single parents who are actually co-parenting. Those parents, though they don’t live together, ARE still in their roles of mom and dad. Maybe one tends to step up more than the other (and let’s be honest, it’s probably the mom if so), but on the whole, single parents who are co-parenting with their ex I’m gonna venture to say don’t wrestle with the same questions and vexations I, a sole single parent, do…does…grammar here??
Years ago when my son was young we (my husband and I) had a nanny. She was a single mom with two grown daughters and I remember on Father’s Day her talking on the phone with one of her daughters and cooing and saying thank you and when she got off the phone she recounted how her two girls were wishing her a happy Father’s Day and always have because they told her she did everything a Father would do for them. That really made an impression on me and I’ve carried that sentiment in my heart all these years, and when I finally became a single mom after my divorce and when my ex moved to the opposite side of the country never to see or speak to his son but for a handful of times I year, I found myself feeling very much like my old nanny. But I had a son, not two grown daughters, and he was sorely unaware of how much I want to be honored on Father’s Day. So when my boyfriend quipped he didn’t believe in that sort of thing, my skin burned.
So what makes a Father a father? What makes a mother a mother? I’ll start with mothers because they seem to be easier to define:
Mothers take care of you when you are sick
Mothers pack your school lunches
Mothers make you breakfast and get you ready for school
Mothers cook dinner
Mothers get involved in your school
Mothers clean the house and do the laundry
Mothers sign you up for extracurricular activities
Mothers remember important dates and make sure you attend them
Mothers teach you etiquette and good manners
Mothers take you to doctors’ appointments
Mothers buy you clothes and school supplies
Mothers decorate the house
Mothers set up play dates
Mothers go grocery shopping
Mothers teach you how to treat a girl
Mothers are softer than Fathers
Mothers are gentle
Mothers kiss you where it hurts
Mothers sing to you at night
Mothers rock you when you’re a baby
Mothers literally carry you in their bodies as a baby
All of these traits I carry for my son – except maybe the being softer than Dad part. When I was married, my husband was the softer one in our parenting.
What do father do?
Fathers teach you how to be a man
Fathers talk to you about sex (if you’re a boy)
Fathers take you to sports games
Fathers teach you how to mow the lawn and do handy work
Fathers teach you how to be tough and throw a punch
Fathers wrestle with you
Fathers throw the ball with you
Fathers teach you how to treat a girl
Fathers buy big purchases like cars
Fathers take you on camping trips and one on one trips
Fathers teach you about finances
Fathers are the breadwinners
Fathers speak for the family
Fathers protect the house and their family
Fathers are tough
Fathers show you how to love a woman
Fathers show you how to respect a man and how to respect a woman and the differences there
And half of those I do for my son. The second half actually. I didn’t even intend to write it that way – the first part being things I don’t do and the second part being the things that I do, but what miffs me is that because my son’s father has shirked his responsibilities as a father, I have to pick up the slack, and for that I should be celebrated on Father’s Day as well. All single parents who really truly are doing this on their own, should be celebrated. Maybe I don’t have a penis, but I certainly am the only one teaching my son about how to respect a woman, and though I am terribly underqualified to teach a boy how to be a man, his father isn’t, so that work is left up to me. I don’t even know how to talk to my son about sex – that doesn’t seem to be the department he nor I want to be near together, but it has to be done. Everything my ex shirks, I either pick up the slack or my son misses out on. And this is what keeps me up at night: the guilt of knowing there are things my son is missing out on because I can’t or won’t do them. I’m not taking my son out to throw the football; I don’t want to and I don’t know how to. Every male family member in my son’s life I ask to teach my son sports and they all nod and then don’t follow through. They don’t get it, and after asking so many of them, it becomes unnerving. Don’t they see! Don’t these men see that their grandson/nephew/cousin needs a man in his life and that I’m asking them to cover some of that lost territory?! Is this something I should add to the list of what mothers do: take the emotional and social temperature of their child and act accordingly? But I have to think single Dads would be sensitive to this too. I think it’s the people that AREN’T single parents who don’t get it despite being told, despite being asked. And I guess I can’t blame them – I didn’t think a whole lot about single parents until I was one. I just knew I never wanted to be a single parent! Yet here I am.
Making the above list has been helpful because I see that in many ways I’m not a Dad. But in many ways I am, so maybe what would feel right is to be celebrated for half of what makes a Father – or maybe even ¾ of what makes a Dad. I know I don’t embody it all, but I do embody way more than my son’s actual father, so the fact he gets patted on the back every year on a certain day for being a Father seems wrong and is actually quite upsetting. He’s getting half of my glory. Half of my hard work. He craps out a quality here or there and is celebrated simply because he ejaculated inside my vagina and his sperm tackled my egg. Other than that, he’s not contributed much else to the Father category.
I deserve to get half celebrations on this day and the fact that I hear almost nil publicly on the subject is surprising to me. In the face of women’s equality and same sex couples with kids, shouldn’t we be exploring what it means to be a father and mother? As we redefine what it means to be a family and gender roles, wouldn’t that include what it means to be a father or mother?
And I know my reward is my actual child. First, that I have one as so many want kids and can’t have them. And second, that he is mine. I get the joy of seeing his sweet cherub face every morning when I wake him up and every night when I kiss him to sleep. I get to see that. I get to experience that. I get to talk to him in person every day. I get to hear about his days and who he likes and meet his friends. I get to see his report cards and clutch my proud heart. I get to hear from people on a regular basis what a stellar son I have. And his father experiences none of that. So I guess if he gets a special day once a year, so be it. I know who the real winner is.
But it would be nice to get an acknowledgement on this day. Just a word or two to say, hey we see your hard work and we honor that hard work and we also recognize how shitty his father is and even shittier it is for your son how much he misses out. I still would really like to hear something like that. That would be nice. That would go a long way to satisfy the rumbling in my heart. And would cool the heat in my cheeks.