The “mother and child” relationship has been celebrated and idealized so much in art and literature– and yes even in our minds – it almost sounds like a cliché. A mother is so highly revered she is almost deified: the “holiest thing alive” (Samuel Coleridge), “the sweetest sound to mortals given” (William Goldsmith Brown), the one God had to create “because He couldn’t be everywhere at the same time.” (Jewish proverb). In my generation, one of the first songs we learned was the mushy, catchy tune about she“who helped us when we fell and would some pretty stories tell (stories tell) and kissed the place to make it well (it well) …”
Fatherhood is more light-weight stuff. To be sure, dads are treated affectionately, but also often flippantly, sometimes irreverently. A dad is usually remembered for his practical uses: “a banker provided by nature” (French proverb); “ “the provider for all, the enemy of all” (J August Strinberg), someone equivalent “to a hundred schoolmasters” (English proverb); someone who “just has a way of putting things together” (Erica Cosby.) As a child of 14, Mark Twain recalls “an ignorant father” whom he "could hardly stand to have around." “But when I got to be 21,” he hastens to add, “ I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”
The physical bond between mother and child is so obviously represented by the umbilical cord. Alas, fathers have no such unassailable ties. They have no wombs to carry their young in, no flowing breasts to suckle and nurture them with; they are deemed to have participated little at human creation except at the exact second of conception. Nowadays, with artificial insemination and upcoming sperm-in-a-dish technology, they need not be physically around at the crucial sperm-meets-egg moment.
The biological gap with fathers is often exacerbated by the patriarch’s traditional role of providing for the family. Dad has to leave home when the sun rises, often when kids are still in bed, and doesn’t come back until nightfall – tired and stressed and hungry and unable to relate to their young in touchy-feely ways except for the perfunctory hug, kiss, and “how was your day, kid?”
And yet, he is expected to be the disciplinarian – the one who should not spare the rod. “Wait till I tell your father you did this and didn’t do that,” a mom would often threaten a misbehaving youngster.
When a marriage flounders and eventually breaks, it is often assumed it is Dad’s fault. He is supposed, often unfairly, to be the one more easily seduced (than moms) by barkada, drinking, gambling, extramarital flings, and other threats to family happiness.
No wonder, Dads, poor dads, are regarded as “provider for all, enemies to all.”
And yet -- what would life be for all of us without our fathers? They can be the sweetest, most indulgent, most protective of all creatures. Come to think of it, families and society in general seem to demand too much of a father. He needs to be strong like Superman, provide like a tycoon, discipline like a Zen guru, show a good moral example like Caesar’s wife. In addition, he should be fun to be with – like Bill Cosby or Dolphy.My friend has this memory of her father which she calls a “mixed bag of sweet, sour, and bitter.“
“I loved-hated my dad,” she began.