I never really knew my father. Well, let me be clearer. I know who he was. He lived with me until I was 12, and then I lived with him on summer vacations and such. I have memories of going fishing once or twice with him. I recall fighting with him as a teenager, and the weekend before he died we had a great conversation, but I was 19 and in Boston for the summer.
My father was a World War II vet, but the way he told it, he was on an island in the Pacific resupplying ships and it was a blast. He went to college on the GI Bill and was a salesman. He sold printing presses, then life insurance, and then funeral plans.
He was the 13th child born and the 11th child to live in his family. He was the baby who was raised by his sisters, which partly explains his life skills, or lack thereof. Alcoholism took a hold of him fiercely, and it affected my family dramatically.
I am the baby in my family. I was the third son born, my parents were in their mid-40s and by the time I came along, alcoholism was in full bloom and its effects were being felt throughout the family. My parents fought bitterly and viciously. My brothers, who were 16 and 14 years older than me, had more fully seen the terrors that I felt the repercussions of as a child.
So when my parents finally divorced, it brought peace to the household, but there was a cost. My father became sober soon afterward, but I was a pre-teen, and parenting a pre-teen from afar is nigh on impossible. The job fell to my older brother Chris. He was an island of calm, mostly, in a household of alcoholism and anxiety. For even though my parents had divorced, the long-term negative effects of their marriage remained. My mother was struggling to make it financially, and battling with the bottle herself. My brother Chris took up the responsibility for being a father figure in my life and though he did a great job, and I love and respect him for it, he was only 28, and he had my father as his father. He was denied a good father just as much as I was, probably more.
When I look at my father’s life, I see the pattern of my life. I see how he was raised by his siblings, I see the lack of strong male figures to teach the hard lessons in life. It is perhaps one of the reasons why I am attracted to the work I do. As much as a mother can nurture a child, she cannot teach a boy how to be a man. Young boys need their mothers, but the more I think about it, and the more I learn about the way men develop, I believe it is the men who teach boys how to be men.
In the ancient Greek city-state of Sparta, boys were raised by their mothers until they were 7 when they were sent to be raised by men. The understanding of boys and men, the ways in which we think and act, versus the manner in which we should act, these are lessons that need to be taught by men because we speak a common language.
Only another man intuitively understands my impulses towards anger, aggression, and sex. Only older, wiser men have been able to show me a better way of dealing with those topics. Fathers, and father figures, are vitally important to the upbringing of boys. It is a crime in our country that so many men are sidelined by the courts, and their ex-wives or girlfriends, when it comes to the raising of the children. It is the future men who are being denied vital life lessons, and it is our society that will pay the price.
The conventional wisdom that the mother is the better parent in all things is as absurd as hiring a plumber to fix a soufflé. Mothers are vitally important at certain times, just as fathers are vitally important at others. To idolize one and ignore the other is philosophically unbalanced and illogical.
This Father’s Day I’d like to see an awareness of the important role that men play in raising boys, who in turn become fathers. Father’s Day is a day honoring fathers and celebrating fatherhood, paternal bonds, and the influence of fathers in society, but to do that, we first have to really understand what they do. It’s about more than just paying child support and every other weekend.
At least, it should be.
David Pisarra is a family law attorney focusing on father’s rights and men’s Issues in the Santa Monica firm of Pisarra & Grist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (310) 664-9969.