A Gathering Voices post by Laura Cheifetz
I do not like holidays that seem to exist to stimulate our consumer economy. That’s how I see Father’s Day. I have been receiving plenty of encouragement throughout the past couple of weeks to buy something “masculine” for my dad and the other fathers in my life.
Some countries have “Parents’ Day.” We have “Mother’s Day” and “Father’s Day.” While many use this day to genuinely appreciate and celebrate the parents in their lives, these days are also used to encourage economic activity of the materialistic type. And we in the U.S. love to gender parenting.
On Mother’s Day, we are supposed to buy our mothers flowers and take her to brunch after church. On Father’s Day, we are supposed to buy our dad something manly: a tie or a tool from the hardware store.
Cue eye roll.
One of the originators of Father’s Day was a woman named Sonora Dodd, whose father was a single parent and raised six children in the early twentieth century. She wanted to honor his parenting, and the parenting of other men. The concept of a day to honor fathers caught on slowly, although it wasn’t signed into law as a national holiday until 1972. It was widely mocked for decades, but manufacturers of what were seen as men’s products jumped on board.
I like to appreciate my dad as much as anyone who has a positive relationship with a parent, but here’s the thing. Purchasing power is not a proxy for relationship. And if it were, my dad likes brunch. My brother (a new dad) likes receiving flowers. And my mom likes hardware stores.
I’m cognizant in the midst of the commercialism that there lurks a real celebration of men who parent (whatever that might mean for different men). I am fortunate to know a lot of great fathers. I love seeing my friends become parents. I see men flourish as fathers, even while negotiating 21st century social forces, workplaces, and relationships.
I know it is perhaps unusual my father is still around, and we have a really great relationship, even with its imperfections. He spent time with me growing up. He taught me how to play baseball, drive a stickshift, love the ministry, demonstrate compassion, and support your spouse. He took me along on his pastoral visits when I was very young (perhaps more a move of parental desperation by two introverts for a very, very social child than a deliberate effort at formation), and read The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy to me over a period of two years. Now he asks me good questions about my ministry and my work. We still love anything Star Trek and Tolkien. We have fun together.
I know this is not the only kind of father in the world. Some people have problematic or painful relationships with their fathers. Some fathers aren’t around because they have died, are incarcerated, or perhaps in another relationship. Some fathers are abusive or neglectful. There are fathers who are doing their best, and their best is just really terrible. I know plenty of men who are now parenting in a way they determine to be contrary to their own fathers’ parenting. Good parenting becomes an act of defiance. And there is a whole other group of people who don’t have or need fathers whatsoever, as they’re being raised in other family configurations.
Some parts of the church have a tendency to reinforce gender stereotypes. Men should be strong and masculine. God appointed men (fathers) the heads of household. Men should be the ones who support their families. Men are the norm. Many firmly believe in the superiority (or Biblical foundations) of the image of God as Father.
Not every church is like this. And while I’m not opposed to the families for whom this works, a better role for the church on Father’s Day might be to nurture men as whole children of God, no matter their level of masculinity, whether or not they can support their families financially, or whether or not they are fathers. The church can make space for all men by not constraining men to proscribed gender roles, but freeing them to be who they were created to be.
Some men are meant to be parents. Some aren’t. Some want to be, but can’t. Some don’t want to be, but are. Some men feel comfortable acting the way society expects a man to act. Some men feel restless within social constraints on manhood.
The church can be (and often is) a place of gratitude for fathers, of lament for those ways in which fathers have caused hurt and pain, and a place for fathers to consider their parenting in a spiritually, materially, culturally, and socially supportive environment. Even though I’m not a father, I’m glad to know a lot of good ones.
Thanks to all the fathers out there. And thanks, Dad, for being you.