After looking through hundreds of quotes, I was struck with the feeling that fathers have a pretty hard row to hoe in today's society. Don't get me wrong - I'm not pollyanna enough that I don't recognize that outdated gender biases can still create all sorts of priviledge for fathers (and men in general). But they also create some pretty tough obstacles for the modern dad who's just trying to do right by his family. He's expected to be involved, open, sensitive, and deeply connected to his family yet, if he shows the vulnerability and makes the choices necessary to do all this, he risks being seen as weak, soft, or unambitious and therefore "unmanly" in our culture. It's easy to say that he should do it anyway, for the sake of his family, and also easy to see why a some men don't (just an observation, not an excuse).
So, where am I going with this? To be honest, I don't know exactly. But I know it has something to do with tolerance for our parents' human-ness and imperfection. It must be a fact that every parent will disappoint, frighten, embarrass, and anger his or her child in one way or another multiple times over the lifespan. Of course, I'm sure there's a spectrum of parents: A few on the super-awesome-ready-for-sainthood end, a few on the hardcore-damage-makes-you-want-to-get-all-mama-bear-on-their-asses end, and a whole lot somewhere in between. But when it comes down to it, we're all human. We're all flawed. And I have a feeling that the vast majority of us are just trying to hold on and do the best we can with what we have.
When I became a mother, I suddenly developed a fierce appreciation for the countless things my parents did well for me and a comforting tolerance for the few times they let me down or missed the mark. I remember the exact moment when I realized the breathtaking power a child has to completely devastate his or her parents with a sideways look, cutting tone, or flippant remark. At that moment, I vowed to try harder to be a better daughter. Of course, I'm also human and I still sometimes get frustrated, take them for granted, and fight the urge to blame them for all of my own flaws and struggles. But now I'm aware of how completely and unconditionally they love me and I try hard to show my gratitude and value for that love in the way that I hope my children will someday do for me.
Now, back to the mama bear end of the spectrum. I know that there are some parents who have hurt their children so deeply that it's near impossible to get past it, making Fathers Day a whole lot more complicated. These children (as minors and adults) may believe that their parents don't deserve their love, appreciation, or forgiveness. And they may be right - it's not for me to judge their experiences. But I do know that the children deserve to be free from the continuing damage caused by their parents' actions. Even if they're no longer in contact, just carrying around the burden of anger, bitterness, and resentment can be like constantly reinflicting their wounds and slowly poisoning their minds, bodies, and spirits. Eighteenth century writer Hannah More wrote, "Forgiveness is the economy of the heart... forgiveness saves the expense of anger, the cost of hatred, the waste of spirits." I've seen in my years of work in the mental health field as well as from my own experience that this still rings true. When people take the space to heal their wounds and make the sometimes Herculean effort to cast off their negativity, the gift of forgiveness they give their offenders is irrelevant compared to the gift of freedom they give themselves.
So, this Fathers Day, I am going to try to show my gratitude for all of the amazing fathers in my life. I'm going to try to focus on their strengths, not their weaknesses. I'm going to try to cut them some slack and empathize with their struggles. And I'm going to try to forgive them for the times I feel they've missed the mark, if not for them, then for my own peace and well-being.
What do you want to try to do for the dads in your life this Fathers Day?