Undoubtedly, millions of women and girls have an anecdote like my grandmother’s jacket story, when some material item was unattainable for child and mother but was clearly attainable for the father, and if not clearly attainable for him, it was expected of him. An article of clothing to keep you warm is, after all, a necessity, and parents are expected provide necessities. Even while a child is still in the womb, its provision is a parent’s number one responsibility.
I believe, however, that our society has allowed men to think it’s their only responsibility to their children. We’re starting to emerge from the darkness; I hear it’s becoming more common for men to request time off from work to care for a sick child or to attend her special events. But then men’s actions are being seen as progressive and exemplary, while women who make the same requests fear losing their jobs because they take too much time off.
Yes, my grandmother was angry that her father never even gave her $5, but “did for” meant more than money. She sent him her school picture every year, an annual plea of, “Just notice me.”
About five years ago, I heard a speaker at a singles conference explain that a father’s purpose in a girl’s life is to show her that she has non-sexual value. If a father, or anyone in a girl’s life taking on that role, violates that purpose, he has convinced her that apart from sex, she has no value.
A girl with no father figure in her life will come in contact with plenty of men—platonic friends, supervisors, professors, pastors, etc.—who value her talents over her sexuality, but hearing it at home first inspires a certain level of confidence in a girl that will continue throughout her life. It’s sometimes mistaken for haughtiness, but a girl should be able to waive off advances from boys who don’t meet her standards for achievement, because her father has told her she’s capable of anything already. A girl should be able to reply, “I know, but thank you for reminding me,” instead of swooning over and jumping into bed with the first boy who tells her she’s a catch, because she has heard this from her father many times already. (So if you think I’m a snob, it’s a compliment to my dad; he did his job.)
I wonder now if my grandmother’s father “did for” the other daughter in any way besides financially. He was close enough to her to have mourned her death; he had to have been shocked or saddened if he called the daughter he had ignored in a moment of grief. But did the daughter he grieved over feel loved? Did she have that confidence that is a father’s job to instill?
My grandmother was confident enough, or at least knew enough about what she lacked and what she would want for her own children one day, to marry someone who was as hard working as she was. As their first grandchild, I received as much affection and attention as I did material gifts. Now that I know a little about “Love Languages,” I know the giving of gifts is one way to show love, but if they hadn’t been able to, I don’t think I would have suffered much.
After my grandmother got married and her philandering father was alone again and old, she went to see him and discovered one of her school pictures on top of his piano. Had he been cruel all those years, or just ashamed of his behavior? Did he want to be true to his heart and express love only where he really felt it, consciously deciding therefore to ignore the family he had no feelings for? Was he unaware of the demands of fatherhood and of what was required of him? He eventually became a minister and asked my great-grandmother for forgiveness before he died, so at some point, he knew he was wrong. But can a man who doesn’t know better do what’s right? And was he clueless because someone didn’t do for him?
I don’t know the answers that would apply to an ancestor I never met, but I know there are some girls, boys, women and men wondering some of those things this Father’s Day weekend.
And then there are the girls and boys who are clueless as to what impact the love they absorb every day from their fathers or from their father figures has on them but who enjoy it just the same. Hopefully, they will one day do for someone else, and the cycle of fathers not doing for children will break.