Dad Isn’t My Superhero

We need to re-think our stereotypes of fatherhood

By Hammad Ali

Cynics all around us will remind us, on every special day, how one day does not change anything and how all of this is a scam by some corporation to sell more merchandise. I completely agree that the cynics have a very firm grasp of facts, but also do not see why facts must come in the way of having a little fun with loved ones. As Homer Simpson, I believe, said, “today is the first day of the rest of your life” is motivational and all, but it’s also a great excuse to have some cake!

Further, I am also a big believer in incremental changes. If the status quo is that we do not slow down and take time to appreciate loved ones, or think about the challenges our society is yet to handle, or just appreciate the blessing that chocolate is, then it can only be a good thing if we start by taking one day a year to do exactly that.

So, for the next Women’s Day, or Mother’s Day, or Chocolate Day, maybe slow down, think about what the day means to you and those you love. If you are concerned you are being scammed to buy more merchandise, here is a mind-blowing concept – don’t. Give the people in your life the gift of your time, make them a meal, really ask them how they are doing and then listen. There are ways to make someone feel loved without spending money.

Moving on, the special day on my mind for this month is Father’s Day. It has been ten years since I lost my father, and I often get a sudden pang of realization that I never told him I love him. Forget love, the two of us never had a conversation that was not gruff, “manly,” and practical. I wish I had the maturity and the sense of security in myself I have today, to have been able to laugh with him, tell him I love him, and hug him close. Now I will never get to do that again because a society told both of us it would not be seemly. But more on that another day.

What I want to talk about today is still related to social expectations, though. Every now and then, when idly scrolling social media, I see someone post about how fatherhood is the ultimate sacrifice, how their father is their hero, and how fathers always relegate their own desires to the very bottom of any list, and stoically provide for others. I agree that more often than not, all of these observations are possibly true. In the interest of completeness, though, I would also point out that there is no lack of selfish, immature men who may have procreated but feel no need to grow into the role of a father. As Yondu tells Starlord in the Marvel Cinematic Universe about his biological father, a megalomaniac who only thinks of people as resources and relationships as transactions: “He may have been your father, boy. But he wasn’t your daddy.”

Photo: Szilvia Basso

However, I have a problem with all those societal norms, expectations, or the tendency to deify fathers as these stoic heroes who care nothing for their own happiness. Because, I am sure they do. It is essentially human to long for pleasures, to want to enjoy one’s favorite meal, watch a nice movie, or buy a nice pair of shoes. And I wish that we did not glorify how fathers never do this.

How if there is not enough money for everyone to get new clothes, it is always the father who goes without. Sometimes, sure. But year after year? I am sorry to phrase it this way, but at some point, it stops feeling like genuine admiration of a parent’s sacrifices, and starts to feel like a conscious perpetuation of a harmful social norm that one stands to gain from. If you love your father, let him know that this year you would rather that he gets something for himself. I assure you, the world will go on.

Beyond the notion that a father exists to pay for everything, I wish we also began work on dispelling the notion that fathers are gruff, silent types who read the newspaper and can only ever be approached through mom. Fathers long for conversation with their children, because it is human to long for conversation, company, and joy. Our fathers also have books they loved in high school, a movie star whose hairstyle they once tried to copy, and maybe a childhood friend they have not met in decades and miss sorely. Talk to them about their lives, their little joys and sorrows. Get to know your father. I wish I had.

I will concede, that a lot of the responsibility for these changes will also land on fathers. To whom I can just say, it will be OK if your children find out you are human. It will be OK if they know you sometimes shed a tear for lost parents, a simpler childhood, or long for maybe just one day without a hundred responsibilities and expectations. Fathers are not superheroes, and nor do they have to be. Fathers are human, with all the human flaws and weaknesses. That is exactly why they can be our heroes. Happy Father’s Day to you all.

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