Here’s to fathers who know how to daddy
Warning: Sentimental, gushy and personal post-Father’s Day post.
Back in 2004, Julie Beck was the first counselor in the Young Women General Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She gave a talk at General Conference that year called A Mother Heart that has become one of the most frequently-referred-to LDS talks in my memory.
Beck expressed some truly beautiful ideas about the importance of devoted mothers and righteous women in general, and their great potential to spread goodness in the world. My favorite part is her comment that some of the truest mother hearts beat in the breasts of women who are not mothers, at least not in the technical sense.
This is hardly news. Everyone who is fortunate enough to be loved by any woman at all knows it’s not pregnancy and birth that qualify a woman for the job of mothering. Love is often triggered by biological ties, but it’s surely not limited by them.
But this isn’t meant to be about mothers, at least not completely.
This weekend, families in the U.S. celebrated Father’s Day.
The word “fathering” does not carry the same sentimentality as “mothering.” “Mothering” implies an ongoing, loving commitment while “fathering” connotes, well. . . something entirely different.
Because I have a close relationship with my own father and because I am married to a man who adores his children even when they vomit on him in the middle of the night, I wish there were a better word to describe the honor they and men like them bring to the calling of father. “Daddy” is babyish, but perhaps accurate. “Father” is the technical label on birth certificates, but “daddy” is a title earned through a close relationship.
“Dadding” or “daddying” is too clunky to catch on as a verb, but it is what I’m looking for, meaning-wise. While every child has a father–at least technically–not every child has a daddy.
My husband coaches our son’s soccer team and I help with the administrative details, such as distributing game schedules and snacks. This year, for a team of seven players, I made more than 20 copies of the game schedule for players’ families. It wasn’t because people kept losing their schedules, it was because nearly every player had more than one house and family.
I am glad those little soccer players have so many people who love them and are ready to cheer at their games, but their family lives are undeniably complicated. Kids live with aunties and grandparents and various combinations of parents, parents’ significant others and step-parents. Some arrangements are stable and some, regrettably, are not. In the unstable situations, it seems the father–for a variety of reasons, some unavoidable– is the character most likely to be written out of the child’s life.
This leaves a lot of kids without exposure to consistent daddy-ing.
This is where my husband wins my respect, again and again.
The team was (don’t tell my son I said this) pretty weak this year. They won only a few games. A couple players had never played soccer much at all before this season. But my husband was at every practice and game and acted like coaching those boys was the most important thing he’d done all week. He pep-talked, explained, demonstrated and cheered relentlessly. He dug through our basement storage to find nearly-new-but-outgrown cleats to give to a player who’d been playing in worn-out tennis shoes. He managed to find some compliment for each player, even if they’d kicked the ball in the wrong direction (“Your foot is getting so strong! I couldn’t believe how far that went!”) or they’d tripped (“You’re so ready to take one for the team!”). It seems simple and obvious, like what all coaches of children’s sports do, but it’s not. It’s valuable. Not every child gets attention and encouragement at home, and not every child gets it from an emotionally healthy, stable man he can look up to.
If you asked my husband why he coaches kids’ soccer, he’d say it’s an excuse to play with his son. His kid needs daddy-ing. But I think he sees how many other boys need a dose of daddy-ing, too, and he’s willing to give it. It’s a “father heart,” for sure.
It’s his “father heart” that makes him hire otherwise loitering neighborhood teens to do yard work with him and our own boys. It’s his “father heart” that makes him popular with the kids in our son’s carpool (which he drives every morning so I can have a leisurely breakfast with our younger children). It’s completely normal behavior for a dad to love his own sons, and my husband does that as well as can be done. As I type this, he’s putting doggy-print pajamas on our freshly-bathed baby and barking with him.
But my husband is not one to let biology tell him how many kids deserve to be cheered for or get a Slurpee after a day working in the sun. His devotion to daddy-ing means he doesn’t discriminate.
“The most important thing a father can do for his children is love their mother,” taught late LDS President David O. McKay. I would add that seeing a dad love his children–and others– makes their mom love him even more.