It’s Father’s Day in the Philippines. Different countries have different dates for this occasion but they all fall at around this time in different parts of the world.
As a father for some 32 years now, I can tell you that this day that the world has designated to honor people like me feels different at different times in a father’s life.
Granted that when you became a dad, you embraced the role completely (as opposed to denying paternity or rejecting the role and responsibility of it), you will find that your feelings about this day are subject to the tides and years you have spent being one.
As a young father many moons ago, Father’s Day was always sweet. My children would make cards professing their love for me and I, in turn, would allow myself to be totally immersed in the warm fuzzy feelings, and the romantic idealization of being called the word’s ‘greatest’ dad. But these feelings last only as long as your kids still look at you as the sole repository of knowledge, wisdom, masculine love and protection, and the source of generous material largesse. Though just partly accurate, a French proverb puts it quite well: ‘A father is a banker provided by nature.’
But as your children move to their teenage years, their feelings about you change. To many teens, Father’s Day is no longer so special. They may or may not be available for or even excited about a planned family dinner to celebrate the occasion, depending on how they are feeling.
The home-made cards stop coming. If there are any cards at all, they are store-bought. The greetings become perfunctory, if they remember at all. Ironically, despite the memory lapse (which I suspect could really be more of indifference), it is also the time in their lives when they probably need fatherly advice and intervention the most, whether or not they acknowledge it.
At certain stages, Father’s Day comes with mixed feelings. It is not much different from say, going to confession. There is an ‘examination of conscience’ as you look at your kids, see how big they have grown, and how at times, you feel a great sense of alienation from them. You ask yourself what you have done correctly and with good intentions, and what you have failed to do.
And as they grow up and begin to live their own lives and face their own challenges, this weaning away from you becomes more pronounced.
As a dad, or perhaps more because I am a guy, I try and brush off any feelings of pain or alienation when my kids forget to call, or text or greet me on this day, or on occasions like birthdays, Christmas and the like. I try to make nothing of the hurt I feel and even rationalize that perhaps they were just too busy to have remembered to greet me.
Mothers generally are better at remembering such occasions, and God bless them for that. My wife reminds me of birthdays, wedding anniversaries of friends, relatives, etc. She even asks me what plans I have for occasions like today and may suggest a family activity like a special dinner. Or sometimes, she may just buy a cake, a small gift to make sure that I feel special somewhat. I suspect that without mothers reminding their kids, more than half of fathers in the world would not receive any kind of acknowledgement or greeting from their children on Father’s Day.
In this age when many Filipino families are physically apart because a parent is abroad as an OFW, Father’s Day has become even more of a red letter day. Though Father’s Day in the Philippines was not a big deal some 20 years ago, it is now a big holiday, thanks to commercialization. And to fathers who are living abroad where Father’s Day traditions have been big for sometime now, missing the family on this day becomes even more acute.
Thank God there are twitter, facebook and email to remind everyone not just to greet their fathers on Father’s Day but to sustain family closeness, relationships and spirits with absent siblings, children or parents. There’s also snail mail, and there are these special promos from telcos like Globe which offer services that keep families connected.
But all these are two-edged swords since it hurts more when people do not get any greeting knowing how easy it is to be connected or send out a message these days. To family members who are away, it drives home the point of how real being ‘out of sight, out of mind’ can be.
My eldest, Erica, is now in her early 30s. Ala, my second daughter is in her late 20’s and my son Mio is in his early 20s. Ala and Mio are in Sydney. As I write this, my wife Lydia is still in the US but will soon be flying to Sydney to join them. I have not been with them for sometime now and I really miss them a lot.
As a father who is away from two of my kids, I watch them from a distance with great pride, sometimes with some concern as they go through the joys and pains of becoming more and more their own persons. But I miss our long conversations, or even short but meaningful ones where I could get a good view of how they are living and shaping their lives and going for their dreams. I feel relieved to see them able to successfully navigate their way through some rough spots—love affairs, job problems, depression, etc. But I often worry whether I should have taught them more about life. As parents, we can do only so much, and yet, we can’t help feeling that our time as shapers and influencers in our children’s lives is shorter than it should be.
I cherish those moments when I have sat with my kids and was able to really communicate with them or when I felt that we shared something really special. There are always teachable and learning moments for both parents and children when they are all together. I am still learning, through experience, a father’s place in the scheme of things. But I know I connect with my kids in a special way when I am listening and understanding them as a friend or an empathizing human being, while still being a father to them when they need one.
‘If the past cannot teach the present and the father cannot teach the son, then history need not have bothered to go on, and the world has wasted a great deal of time,” wrote Russell Hoban, an American writer.
In a world where more and more options are open to young people and where the world has made it more possible for them to live anywhere and adapt a lifestyle that suits them, a father may feel both irrelevant and very relevant at the same time. For example, while I have always known that I could not possibly force my kids to take up certain careers, I also know that the greatest thing I can teach them is to how to succeed at being happy and pursue what makes them feel alive and creative.
Someday, I would like my kids to say about me the same thing that writer Clarence Budington Kelland said about his own dad: “My father didn’t tell me how to live; he lived, and let me watch him do it.”
Maybe, one of the most important things a father can give his children is help them be the best, happiest human beings they are meant to be. And one way to do that is for them to see their father as one who not just pays the bills and sacrifices for them but also as a happy, creative, loving person.
Happy Father’s Day to all of us Dads everywhere.