James C. Banks

A Tribute to Fatherhood

In Uncategorized on June 21, 2011 at 1:19 am

Father’s Day always gets a spate of appreciative or nostalgic treatments.  It is perhaps the one day when we all remember that fatherhood is distinct from parenthood in the same way that motherhood is unique.  It is the day when everyone remembers that fatherhood is, in the words of Robert Hayden, a “austere and lonely” vocation.

To say that fatherhood is austere and lonely is counter-intuitive; it is true that these words better fit the lifestyle of many single and uncommitted males.  The world has changed also.  Women are common members of the workforce (and, in the next few decades, might become even more common); “work” no longer denotes a physical challenge and the cubicle has replaced the assembly line.

Cultural norms have changed even in conservative communities.  While women of the Latter Day Saint movement still, by and large, remain in the home, Baptists and Catholics have accepted that wives can be part of the workforce as long as they are centered on the homestead.  But even while America’s attitudes have changed in relation to the vocations of motherhood, fatherhood has remained largely the same vocation that it was in 1900. Society is (rightly) no more tolerant of a family man who spends all of his time lounging around the house than it was during the time of the Greatest Generation.

Raising children has become, and will probably remain, a much more difficult task than succeeding in the workforce, but this doesn’t change the fact that every weekday fathers confront a world which most individuals would rather forego altogether–rising to noisy alarm clocks, commuting miles to jobs which might either be exhausting or unfulfilling, cutting grass and repairing damaged door frames or appliances on Saturdays and Sundays.  It is understandable why women should have wanted to join the workforce, particularly as technological advances made jobs more available.  Nonetheless, fathers have never had the choice to join the workforce in the way that women have had in the past thirty years: Fathers never chose to join the workforce; it was their titular duty to do so.

It still is, and this is why the appreciative essays on fatherhood that I read every year, while repetitive, have not diminished in relevance.  Happy Father’s Day!

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