You may have been struck by how many actors, directors, special effects experts, and costume designers thanked their mother on Sunday night for putting them on the right track to an Academy Award. One guy thanked his mom, but recalled she asked, “So you’re sure you don’t want to be doctor?”
Did you wonder why dads didn’t get as many (or any?) thanks Sunday night? My theory is that for the generation who are 30+ at this point, a present, at-home, not working-late-at-the-office dad was not the norm. Most households, especially white collar ones, despite massive changes in the nuclear family during those years, supported the absentee dad. Dad often put work first, as well as other social priorities, especially during the baby years. Later, they found it hard to communicate with their kids and some gave up trying. Moms never got off the hook that easily and did at least try, complaining all the way, “to have it all.” Men were more willing to let some things slip, and sometimes, that was the kids.
An entire generation or more never really questioned that dynamic, and some grew up later to write books about distant, cold, emotionless fathers, or to tell it all on the therapist’s couch. Those of us lucky enough to have had close relationships with our dads were amazed by stories of fathers saying “I love you,” for the very first time to their families on their deathbeds. Largely, we give those dads a pass, because times were different, and society’s expectations for dads were different.
I read an article a few years back on the famous Brazilian photographer Sebastiao Salgado. I have always been very impressed with the volume of his work and his success as a major black-and-white photographer. The New Yorker did a major story on him last year, chronicling his focus and approach. He traveled continuously to remote places over the past 35 years to shoot startling photos, many that capture human suffering around the world. In the article, he says, “‘That is a problem for me,” about his time away from home. “I did not see my sons grow, but I am very close to my sons.” I had never thought of this great photographer as a father, but while reading the story, I realized that his sons had paid a major price for their father’s success. Famous, fabulously successful people are often envied by us awe-struck bystanders, but they often make bad fathers. It’s a major challenge to be an actor on the world stage as well as a great dad at home. Being present for your kids is certainly one key factor.
Expectations for fathers have changed over the last fifty years. To some extent, this is because many people are having children at a later age when they have greater perspective on their roles. The media also tells men how important their role is in raising strong, confident children. So men are more aware of our responsibility.
My guess is that today’s sons and daughters won’t give dad a “pass” if he doesn’t live up his role and responsibility. Kids need parents who communicate with them, who are involved, who reassure them of their place in the world. Kids today will expect that from their fathers. Dads who are absent either emotionally or physically may still be feted on Father’s Day, but they not only won’t get credit for the Academy Award, they will likely not be remembered as great dads, no matter how successful.