Each year during Father’s Day my Dad makes a remark about how little I saw him as a child. My parents weren’t divorced. On the contrary, they’ll be married 50 years this fall. My Dad wasn’t around that much when I was a kid for one simple reason: He had to work. A lot. Two jobs, 60 hours a week to put my brother and me through college. I saw him 45 minutes a day, Monday through Friday, from the time I was 6 years old. Both of my parents felt so badly about his lack of family time that they’d pack it in on the weekends in between chores.
Sure, it was a bit lonely at times with just my mom and I kicking around the house at night, but Dad always made up for it. He’d pour himself into my interests, bringing home Beatles tapes (yes, that’s how old I am) or scouting flea markets for classic movie memorabilia to add to my collection. He also called us every night from work to check in and have a chat on his break. While he might not have been physically present, he was a constant presence in our home.
Little did I know his crazy work schedule prepared me for married life. Never, ever did I want to marry a guy who worked as much as my dad. So, what did I do? I married a guy who works one job. With lots of overtime. And who spends fifteen hours a week on average just commuting back and forth. Silly me.
Then again, maybe not. My husband regularly turns down opportunities to get together with friends and work colleagues. Last winter he politely declined an invitation to a holiday party so he could get home to his son. This spring he did the same when a younger colleague invited him to karaoke night at the bar: “I don’t think my very pregnant wife and toddler would appreciate that” was his humorous RSVP. Our friends involved in our synagogue’s men’s club would love to have him come along to one of their family-friendly movie nights. “I’ll go when the boys are older” is always his response, “and they can come along, too.”
Weekends are family time. They’re also time for me, the stay-at-home mom, to gratefully take a backseat (and perhaps a nap) and let dad take over. He doesn’t just play with the boys, he hammers home all the hard lessons I attempt to teach over the course of the week. Things like using your fork and respecting the word “no” somehow become a lot more important when dad echoes them aloud. Far from frustrated, I’m grateful for the backup.
And in what has come as a shock to many, my husband has also taken over our baby’s night feeding. “I like spending time with him,” he says of their middle-of-the-night rendezvous. “It makes up for what I miss during the day.” His self-sacrifice reminds me very much of my own dad’s willingness to work himself into exhaustion in order to take care of his family. As it turns out, this is a male trait that is far too often overlooked in today’s woman-centric society, something authors Warren Farrell and John Gray refer to as a “willingness for self-sacrifice.” They explain:
The traditional boy’s journey to self-sacrifice incorporated service to others, and required responsibility, loyalty, honour, and accountability. It created his mission. And his mission created his character.
Men of previous generations often fulfilled this sacrificial service through combat or dangerous employment (settling the American west, building our nation’s infrastructure). While these pursuits still exist today, a great deal of men living in a peaceful, settled nation are now channeling this sacrificial drive into their family lives. A majority of fathers “see parenting as central to their identity.” Today’s dads have tripled the time they spend with their children every week compared to their forebears. They still don’t think that’s enough; most dads want more time with their kids and a growing number are looking to achieve a better work-life balance to do just that. However, dads still want to be the breadwinner in the family, with an overwhelming majority pursuing a job with higher pay. Both men and women prefer to leave the career flexibility to mom.
Instead of asking “Why Can’t We Hate Men?” we ought to be appreciating them more. The simple act of a father working a 12 hour day only to get up in the middle of the night to feed his baby shouldn’t be overlooked. Nor should it be seen as a mere act of “gender equity” in the home. We ought to be loving men for the good things they do, their acts of sacrifice big and small, to care for the women and children they love.