Father’s Day versus fatherhood

June 16, 2007 | By | 3 Replies More

I am cynical about the day called Father’s Day.   For most of my life, I have seen it as yet another store-sponsored holiday.  America traditionally “celebrates” Father’s Day by buying trinkets from a store.   I can’t think of a better way to degrade any occasion.

Father’s Day has become something much more meaningful to me since I became a father, but it is not about receiving trinkets bought at stores. I write this fully aware that there are other, more comprehensive, ways of interpreting the trinkets.

What is it to be a father?  Like most things in life, being a father is not about being brilliant.  It’s mostly about pacing yourself.  It’s about staying reasonably focused over the long-haul.  It’s about dealing with fatigue.  It’s been about repeatedly saying “no” to one’s momentary desires in order to accomplish something much more important in the long run.

I envisioned this blog to be a place for ideas.  For that reason, I’ve minimized revealing much information about my family.  It’s not that I’m not crazy about my family. I am.  I adore my wife and children.  It’s just that I’ve tried to respect their privacy. Then again, writing about events from six years ago doesn’t quite seem quite so invasive.  Therefore, I’m using this post about my real life children to illustrate the idea of parenthood.

It is true that being a father is about bringing home a paycheck to feed and clothes little children.   Therefore, being a father can sometimes be a lonely pursuit; there are days and nights where I dream of being home, but I just can’t be there.  I might be taking depositions in a city far away or I might just be stuck writing legal memoranda a mere five miles from home.  Why do fathers crank so hard for so many long hours at the office?  I’m not going to pretend that being a provider is the only reason, but it is an important reason.  I wouldn’t work as hard as I do were I not a father.  I am intensely driven by a thought: I don’t want to embarrass myself by failing to provide for my children. 

Being a father draws on numerous other skills too.  I’m called on to be a teacher, coach, referee, clown, counselor, banker, cook, nanny, chauffeur and, yes, “parent.”  It’s hard to describe what it is to be a parent to those who aren’t.  When my wife and I were thinking of adopting a little girl, I asked several competent-seeming parents what it meant to be a parent.  They consistently told me that parenting is incredibly exhausting yet equally rewarding.  Descriptions like that made me apprehensive, of course.  

When we were thinking about adopting a child, I was apprehensive about having children.  I thought that they would be expensive, time-consuming, exhausting and annoying and that they would keep me for accomplishing other goals I had set for myself.  This has turned out to be entirely true, of course.  Being a good parent is necessarily time-consuming.  There are no short-cuts to spending long stretches of quality time with your children.  However, there is something else to know about having children. It has to do with the reward of being a parent.   Being a parent addressed a deep need I didn’t know I had. 

In August 1999, my wife (Anne) and I adopted a little girl in Wuhan, China.  Her name is Ju-Ju.”  Here’s the amazing thing:  after resisting the idea of having a child, I found myself enthralled and fascinated to be the father of little JuJu.  In fact, only three months after bringing JuJu home from China, I clamored to adopt a sister for JuJu.  We jumped on that second round of adoption paperwork, and eventually we adopted Charlotte in March 2001 in Hunan, China. 

For this “Father’s Day” post, I’d like to mention one other thing.   A friend of mine (who sometimes shows up on this blog under a pseudonym) gave me advice about how to be a good parent.  He said that there was only one rule:  “You need to listen to your children.  And by listen, I mean you need to take the time to really actively listen to your children so that you know who they are. Everything else will fall in place if you follow this one rule.”  I’ve found that when I follow this rule, everything else does fall in place.  That is my advice, too, to anyone considering becoming a parent. 

                       jj and ch posing2 - good.bmp

                                         Charlotte and JuJu – 2001

I wrote the following article in April, 2001, not long after Anne and I had come home from China with one-year old Charlotte.   Charlotte’s “big” sister JuJu was still adjusting to that new child occupying “her” house.   We were having intense struggles with sleep issues (the children often woke up in the middle of the night).  I often found myself sleep-deprived at work.  Those were the days of “hard rowing,” according to a friend, whose own children were considerably older.  They certainly were days of “hard rowing,” but I mourn the loss of those days.  They were exhausting days when it was a victory to barely keep up with the energy of the children, then to tuck them into their little beds a mere hour before we would collapse.   That was our agenda, day after day.  But then, somehow, we all grew up, which is a separate, ongoing and wonderful story.  But what follows is how it was a long six years ago.

A few weeks ago, in March, JuJu became a big sister.  Last night I was able to take two daughters to hear some Tuesday night jazz.  Charlotte is eleven months old, while JuJu is almost three.  We left mom at home to recharge this time, in search of some fun. 

Contrary to what some have suggested, raising two children is much more difficult than raising one.  Anne and I need to carefully plan to get things done, navigating two sleep schedules and two appetites.  Getting two children out of the house and into the car sometimes seems like a heroic struggle.  Dividing attention between two engaging daughters can be frustrating.  And I now know that sibling rivalry is no mere phrase.  It is an intense, sometimes tormenting, experience to a big sister.  Life is now punctuated with cries of “That’s Mine!” and “I want that!” Despite these challenges, people assured us that our girls would play together, and that “it will be wonderful.”

With that as the emotional backdrop, I pushed the balky double-stroller containing two little girls to the front lawn of the History Museum.  The air was unseasonably crisp, and the girls were more than ready to hop out and dig into the buckets of chalk supplied by the museum.  JuJu worked hard to draw a yellow “J” on the sidewalk while Charlotte drew dozens of blue commas.  When the music started, Charlotte dropped her chalk to play “drums” on the seat of a chair.  Then she toddled about, peeking up to see how many dozens of people would smile back at her.  JuJu discovered how to use a hula-hoop. When we walked up to watch the musicians closely, the girls focused on the drummer.  They bobbed their heads and twisted their tiny bodies under a kaleidoscopic sunset.  JuJu paused to point out a flock of geese flying overhead.  

JuJu is careful to include her little sister in most things (“Charlotte needs cracker too”).  In return, Charlotte provides a constant audience to JuJu’s accomplishments.  She even gives JuJu occasional hugs, something she did twice at the concert.  JuJu shows Charlotte how to play with toys, and tells us what Charlotte “wants.” Charlotte’s engaging happiness serves as a powerful antidote to JuJu’s task-oriented intensity.   

On that idyllic May evening, we spent two hours away from home with no crying and no hint of conflict.  Upon our arrival back home the girls quickly spotted Anne at the computer, and ran to her with open arms.  On occasions like this, it seems like I’m part of someone else’s imaginary story.

It’s rarely lost on me that these two girls were born halfway around the world, and that they probably never would have met had they grown up in China.  They live as sisters now, and in return for our considerable labors, they provide us with countless miracles.  Ironically, fatherhood derives part of its meaning from a disorienting context.  We thrive as a family in a world often filled with senseless pain and grotesque newspaper headlines.  This context intensifies the experience of fatherhood and pushes me to seize the day like never before.

This little vignette is my own version, of course.  Every caring father has been turned inside out in his own enchanted way and, for each of us, the details that make it all resonate deeply.   While listening to jazz last night I found myself pondering what it really meant to be the father of two wonderful girls.  That answer, like the truly ineffable answers to so many important questions, was right under my nose.


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Category: American Culture, Friendships/relationships, Meaning of Life, Psychology Cognition

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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  1. Father's Day thoughts | Dangerous Intersection | June 20, 2010
  1. You sound like a great father. 🙂 I hope I will feel this way, too, one day. Somehow I feel I want to have kids one day, but whenever I see schoolkids I think they're little monsters who shout and scream and hit each other all day long.

  2. Mary says:

    Thanks for sharing such a wonderful story, Erich. Your daughters are adorable and lucky to have such a caring father. Our children are teenagers and when they are all out of the house for a night of sleepovers, I have a sense of how lonely it will be when they leave the nest. Kids are amazing.

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