By MARY HOOD HART
Because so many couples feel so much pressure to tend to work and family, we sometimes keep a mental list tabulating just who’s doing what for the kids and the house. Resentment builds if one partner feels the other isn’t doing his or her fair share. According to recent studies, mothers, even those who work full-time outside the home, find themselves primarily responsible for child care and housework. These reports suggest that the majority of fathers are not pulling their weight.
Call me a Pollyanna, but I don’t agree. The information upon which these reports are based is so subjective. Unless an observer documented a family’s every move (a highly impractical, as well as intrusive, method) the information derived for the study is based on a family’s perception of how much its members contribute. Such perceptions are unscientific, to say the least.
To be honest, I’m getting tired of all this complaining about unhelpful men. Granted, some men aren’t helping as they should. And, yes, many mothers are overworked. My good friends will attest that on occasion I’ve vented my frustrations about certain deficiencies I’ve perceived in my husband’s contributions around the house. But the longer I’ve been married and a mother, the more I’ve learned how petty and ungrateful most of such complaining really is. I’ve also discovered that, as soon as I stop feeling sorry for myself, I realize my husband’s contributions around the house and with the children are more significant than I might have imagined.
As Father’s Day approaches, I want to renew my perspective, to stop keeping score and start noticing the wonderful contributions fathers make to their families. Maybe they aren’t all suited for cameos in Gerber commercials, but these men are tackling a hard job and they’re doing it well. The role of a father has changed dramatically over the years, yet these fathers are confident enough to ignore stereotypes and embrace their own styles. No studies can ever adequately assess the contributions these men are making to their families. The best testimony to their fathering is written all over their children’s faces.
Several times a week, I see fathers and their children at Little League ball games. From tee-ball to pony leagues, these men devote hours to coaching, assisting, and supporting their children’s teams. My husband’s job requires lots of travel, so he’s unable to commit to coaching a team, but on nights when he’s in town, Jim is at the field, often still dressed in his work clothes, shirt sleeves rolled up, dress shoes dusty with clay. It’s not just fathers of sons who coach. My daughter is acquainted with a family of two girls whose father has devoted himself to coaching their softball team since they were in primary school. He’s now coaching teen-agers (a formidable job, from what I’ve observed.)
Coaching is, of course, only one way many fathers contribute. Every year, I see more fathers than ever attending, even presiding over PTO meetings, walking their children into the elementary school, volunteering in the classroom. Fathers are involved in the schools now, in a big way, a trend I’m convinced is here to stay.
However, the most significant contributions fathers make to their children’s lives are often the old-fashioned ones. Children need a father’s protectiveness, strength, guidance. As a child, I never doubted my father’s ability to protect me and though there were times in my life when I acted as if I could do without his guidance, deep down, I always respected his opinion. Even to this day, my husband and I call upon our fathers to ask their advice on everything from computers to personal relationships. Our fathers’ insights and experience have proven invaluable and, best of all, we know their advice comes straight from the heart.
It is strength mingled with tenderness that makes a father’s love so unique. When I watch my 6-foot-3-inch husband caress our 6-year-old Anna’s cheek, I know that a father’s contributions to his childrren can’t ever be tallied and recorded on a list. What Anna gains from a single caress is far richer — and lovelier — than that.
Mary Hood Hart lives in Calabash, N.C., with her husband, Jim, and their four children, ages 6 to 14. In addition to The Miscellany, Hart is a columnist for The Mirror, diocesan paper of Springfield — Cape Girardeau, Mo.