Daddy underrated

Or why fathers are underappreciated for the role they play in parenting

BY

At a glance


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    Dads are different now.

    I’d go as far as saying that men are different now. As a result of decades or centuries of struggle for gender rights and equality, where women—and the LGBTQ+ community—have been historically the ones struggling, fighting, the men aren’t exactly the oppressors anymore.

    At least not in my world, at least not within my circle in Manila, where women have always been powerful, such great characters equal to men in terms of intelligence, cunning, potential, and sometimes even physical strength.

    I’m no father, but I’ve had the privilege of playing a major role in raising two nieces and a nephew and, as they were growing up, I could see a sort of reversal of roles. The girls, having been brought up in #metoo time, encouraged to be ever braver, more aggressive, less compromising, have turned out to be more independent, less needy whereas the boy, my nephew, is proving to be more affectionate, more expressive, more sensitive, even more clingy, and that’s because the world has been nagging boys like him to be kinder, gentler, more attuned to their “feminine” side, more open to their emotions. Men are being asked to be more like women while women are being asked to be more like men.

    I don’t know how this reversal of roles will play out once these kids become parents themselves.

    My father became a parent at a time distant parenting was the norm. To be fair, so was my mother, but women in those times were constrained to be the caring, nurturing side of the parental team. It was the mother who woke up to get their children ready for school. It was the mother children looked for if they were running a fever or they bruised up from a fall or if they needed money for school projects. The men, on the other hand, were expected to be the breadwinner, the provider and, if we must go by stereotypes, did not really take an active role in their children’s lives. At any rate, while I was growing up, most of the parenting chores were delegated to the yaya, the nanny, who often became as close to their wards as the parents in addition to becoming confidante. The role of fathers in our lives, unlike mothers, aren’t sentimentalized. If it’s given any thought, it is often underrated. The phrase “Mother knows best” isn’t exactly innocent in establishing the role assigned to each gender. It implies, maybe without meaning to, that it is their mother children should turn to should they find themselves in any sort of conundrum.

    Even the celebration of Mother’s Day goes earlier back in time, all the way to the 1860s, whereas the seed of a Father’s Day celebration was only planted in 1910 when, inspired by a West Virginia church initiative of delivering a sermon in tribute to the 362 men who perished in a mine explosion in 1907, Sonora Smart Dodd, who worked briefly in fashion for Hollywood, pledged to celebrate it in honor of her father, the American Civil War veteran William Jackson Smart. I hope we are different now, although it’s funny how now we applaud the dad who walks his daughter to school and still condemn the mother who arrives half an hour late at the schoolyard to pick up her son. The burden of societal expectations on mothers is still heavier, but I suppose more and more of that weight is being transferred to the father, who is now expected to hold his wife’s hand while she is giving birth, who is now expected to take turns with his co-parent to feed the baby or change his or her diaper, or read a child a story at bedtime.

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    MEMORIES OF A FATHER My father was a distant authority, but he was allpresent, a great inspiration — his love of movies, music, good food, and coffee made a lifelong mark on me

    I have no qualms about the way my father raised me, although I could say he was technically an absent parent, as far as the chores of parenthood were concerned. I don’t remember him ever taking me to National Book Store to buy my books, notebooks, and school supplies at the opening of a new schoolyear. I don’t remember him ever helping me tie my shoelaces, put on my socks, or button my shirt. Did he ever put a towel on my back when I was all sweaty in the playground? Or made an airplane of a spoonful of carrots and broccoli on its way to my cave of a mouth to get me to eat my veggies? And did he ever read me passages of The Wizard of Oz at bedtime?

    Maybe not, but my father was all-present, a looming figure, a giant in my eyes growing up, even if he was mostly out. He did hold my hand walking into a dark theater in what used to be Quad in Makati to watch King Kong or Star Wars. He did carry me on his shoulders so I could have a good look at the animated Christmas display at COD (Christmas on Display) in Cubao, Quezon City. He took me and the rest of the family to occasional dinners that were always special, costing more than my mother would consider reasonable.

    My father never told me what I should be, what I should do, what success or failure should mean to me. He let me figure it all out on my own, unaware that I took cues from everything he did, like the newspaper he would tuck in his armpit on his way to the bathroom, or the way he would rhapsodize over Marlon Brando, whistle a tune from The Bridge Over the River Kwai, or talk at length about his opinion on the Cold War, the benefits and repercussions of nuclear energy, and the complexity of time as caught in the very first of The Terminator franchise.

    I think the most important thing he had ever done for me as a father, eclipsing what today’s standards might consider his omissions or even negligence, is that at no point in my life, even in those times I was at odds with him with my teen hormones in full attack mode, did I ever have to doubt that he cared for me and, more important, that he loved me.