Did you know that Father’s Day was founded in 1910 in America (natch.) and that in the last 103 years, Congress has thwarted several attempts to make it an official holiday for fear of it becoming too commercialised. The amount of cards and “gift ideas” I’ve encountered recently suggests that the ship has sailed on that one, but it did get me thinking about fathers in general.
On the whole, they tend to get a bad press; often in client work it is the father who stands out as having had the most detrimental affect on a client’s childhood, somehow their shortcomings frequently seem more obvious and impactful. As for the dads that don’t stick around, well, a quick Google search reminded me that “absent fathers” have been blamed from everything from increased crime rates, and restricted national growth to causing depression and sexual promiscuity in their daughters. And latterly of course the debate on same sex marriage has reignited the debate around parent hood in gay relationships, as if they represent too many fathers or not enough?
So why do we feel the need to demonise fathers? Does it stem from the fact that our first intense bond is usually (but not always) with our mother? That she is literally our world to start with and that as we grow and explore she represents our safety, the secure base to which we always return? In this scenario, our father is somewhat redundant, and we have to learn how to fit him into our life a bit later on, which developmental model theorists certainly consider a difficult task. Freud’s phallic stage is about the process of converting that mother baby dyad into a father inclusive triad and is full of drama, hatred and love, which the pre-school child somehow has to navigate successfully in order to maintain good functioning relationships with both parents.
Other theorists present a slightly calmer view and emphasise the increasing ability during this time to relate to more than one person and to understand the affect we can have on an other in a relationship. Melanie Klein (never one for unsolicited happiness) typically refers to it as the Depressive Position – i.e. the realisation that life is not and never will be all about us, but that we have to share, and consider others. And I think this maybe at the root of why it is easier to vilify our father, precisely because mothers are so important to us as children, we find it hard to share them. For the same reason it is much more painful to think that our mother might have screwed up as well, we tend to want to preserve our view of her as “good”, but are happy to recall our father’s (the interloper) faults.
The trouble with any theory however, (and most media reports) is that they are very broad brush and people are so much more intricate. The vast majority of parents do the best they can from a position of love, sometimes it is good enough, sometimes it is not; that is true of all parents regardless of gender or sexuality. Yes there may be a developmental argument in favour of raising a child within a happy heterosexual relationship where gender roles are clearly defined, but in all honestly, I believe one happy, attuned and attentive parent is better than two neglectful ones, in the same way that happy attuned and attentive same sex parents are better than heterosexual dysfunctional ones.
Ultimately fathers are just people like the rest of us, doing their best in a bewildering world. If you have at least one father (or a father figure) I hope you can celebrate them on Sunday. I do and I will.