I want kids someday – one or two. And after I have them, I want to go back to work – on the boat. Some people really freak out when I tell them this. They tell me “children need their mother”, and ask “who is going to raise them??” You really want to know? Their father, that’s who. Their father will have a huge part in raising them. Children need their mothers, but they need their fathers too.

When we talk about parenting, especially with regard to parents who work, it seems fathers are left out of the equation almost entirely. We focus primarily on the responsibilities of the mother, and nothing any mother ever does is good enough. She can’t work, stay at home, or enjoy herself without hearing someone’s opinion on the matter. We don’t think about what the dad is doing this whole time. For example, let’s talk about family men who go to sea. Don’t you think it’s hard for fathers who go to sea and leave their children at home for weeks or months at a time? Don’t you think those little kids miss their daddy? Daddies miss their kids, I’ll tell you that, even if they never talk about it. Men are no less capable of loving their offspring than women are. If a mother was to go away to work, can’t a father provide just as much love and care as the mother would if it was the other way around (which it usually is)? I think he could.

So I’m saying that in a typical nuclear family, of course kids need their mother, but they need their father just as much. Both boys and girls, but since I’m not a boy I’ll talk from a girl’s perspective about what the father-daughter bond means to me. What does it mean for a child when her father loves her fiercely and without reservation? She grows up with a heart that is strong but at the same time able to be vulnerable, understanding that vulnerability is a form of strength that opens the door to the opportunity to learn how to better love and understand others. She is less afraid of failure because she knows she is loved even if she fails, that she can try again. She doesn’t worry so much what boys think of her because she is taught that her value is not determined by who she’s with. She’ll follow her own path, rather than a path laid out for her by someone else. She won’t tolerate being treated with anything less than dignity and respect.

Dads are larger than life to their children. When I was a tiny girl, my father was the biggest, strongest human being I could imagine. I wanted to be tall and strong like him; he would pick me up so I could touch the ceiling and to my wide-eyed three-year-old self that was the most amazing thing. He’d put on his Bean boots and throw me over his shoulder and hold onto my legs with one hand while toting his tackle box and fishing pole in the other, and wade down Soda Creek to the Napa River to teach me how to fish. When I was a competitive swimmer, he would come to meets and stand behind my starting block and cheer so loudly the refs would give him dirty looks – I was so embarrassed then, but now the thought warms my heart and makes me laugh. He sang to me. He told me all the time that he loved me, and he still does.

Children need their mothers, yes. Mothers can stay at home, or they can go to work, and either way they can still be what they need to be for their children. So can fathers. Every family is different, the work/family balance will be different for everyone. But let’s not lose sight of how much it means for children to have a loving father. That should never be discounted.

I’ll leave you with a song: it’s called Soliloquy, from my favorite Rogers and Hammerstein musical Carousel. Billy Bigelow finds out his wife is pregnant and goes down to the seashore to dream about how much fun he’ll have with his future son, who will be just like him: rough, handsome, carefree. About halfway through his soliloquy he realizes with a start that he could have a daughter instead, and that she’ll probably need a little more comfort and protection than a hardy young boy might need. I can’t listen to this song too often because I never fail to cry my eyes out every single time I hear it. It so poignantly illustrates the instant and unshakable love a father has for his daughter, and reminds us what that will mean for her as she grows up.

I love you dad. Happy Father’s Day.

4 thoughts on “Fathers

  1. Aw man … That's one terrific post. Thanks for acknowledging the heartbreak dads feel when they have to go to work. 1. That day my then-3-year-old said: \”Daddy, when are you coming to visit me again?\” What do you mean? I live here. \”No, you live on a boat. You visit my house.\” 2. We're a busy family and there is a lot of juggling of schedules and sometimes the generation above us looks at us sideways and wonders why my wife doesn't just stay at home with our young children. I've had to patiently explain, more than once, that if anyone is being selfish it's me, working on boats for about 60 percent of what my partner brings home. 3. I think it's pretty much a universal struggle, trying to find the balance between being a responsible, loving, supportive parent and being a fulfilled adult. 4. Finally, I love that t-shirt — I think Doyin Richards created it: \”Real men don't babysit their kids, they raise them.\”


  2. Elizabeth, you're killing me. We must've had similar childhoods. My father fished, and as such was absent more than he was home. I've chosen a similar career, and when Loren tells me, \”I don't want you to leave, Dad,\” it just kills me. How do you explain your absence to a 4 year old? The importance of work is some nebulous idea to a child. Thankfully absence is tempered with long periods at home, forging experiences which create palpable memories. I think you're right. What difference does it make whether it's the father or the mother that goes to sea? As long as love is there waiting at home, a child will grow up with a sense of what's right.Ryland


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