Why Mom Can’t Be Dad (and why that’s okay)

dad_8tzp“Now ain’t nobody tell us it was fair. No love from my daddy ’cause the coward wasn’t there. He passed away and I didn’t cry, ’cause my anger wouldn’t let me feel for a stranger.” -2Pac, Dear Mama

Mothers are the singularly most amazing human beings on the planet. They give more of themselves than it seems possible to give,and then they give some more. So often a mother’s job is never done, because to her it is so much more than merely a job. It’s a calling. When her child screams out in the night, a mother’s ears are tuned to pick up on it and respond, even before she herself is awake. A mother seems like she’s in all places at the same time because she often has to be in order to take care of her myriad responsibilities.

A mother doesn’t complain, though, not even when she isn’t appreciated, because she knows complaining doesn’t get things done, and she has no time for excuses. But one thing a mother can never do is be a father, and that’s okay.

For the most part, I grew up in a single-parent home. My father was never around, but even when he was his mind was elsewhere. I had probably five, maybe six, solid, concrete moments with him when I was younger when he made a positive impression on me, but I have a plethora of those type of memories featuring my mother. I just saw her this weekend, and it’s amazing to me how fresh those memories still are, and how we continue to make those memories no matter how old I get. The bond between a mother and her children should be an enduring one, and it often is, but can it make up for the absence of a father?

I hear so many people extoll the virtues of single mothers by saying, “She was both a mother and a father to me.” But that can’t be true, can it? Expecting a mother to be a father is like asking an Irish man to be Chinese. That’s because we need different things from each parent, and while many of us make it through childhood just fine without a father, it doesn’t lessen the yearning for one, or fill the hole caused by his absence.

father-son-bondingMom can’t be Dad because daughters need a father to show them how a real man acts, and because sons need a guide to usher them into manhood. Mom can’t be Dad because each parent carries their own experiences and expectations into parenthood. We learn different lessons from each one, and we grow into our unique selves because of the time spent and memories made with both of them. Mom can’t be Dad because we are born with a need for a mother and a father, and while Mom does so much for us, always taking care of us, there is a need for Dad that only he can fill.

I love my mother so much. I always have, and I always will. She has always been there for me through good times and bad, when I was in pain, physically and emotionally, always ready to forgive me even when I didn’t deserve to be forgiven. Her love is unconditional, and I can’t overstate her importance to me. But I still have this empty space, accentuated even further every June by the proximity of Father’s Day, a space that could only have been filled by those memories of him that just aren’t there. And every year I get a little bit older, and a little less naive, not quite thinking that he’ll call, which makes me so sad…

“Expecting a mother to be a father is like asking an Irish man to be Chinese.”

Until I look at my own children, and I know I’m not naive. It can happen. A man can be a good father. He can be there for his children so they don’t have to rely on their mother for everything, to be everything all the time. And he understands that life isn’t perfect but he can’t run when he feels overwhelmed. He has responsibilities just as important to his children as a mother has, just as integral to a child’s maturation and emotional well-being.

When my children look into my eyes I see that love, that acceptance, that appreciation for being HERE, with them, for giving them time, and love, and knowledge. Now I am that man that I wanted to know so much when I was young, that father that I needed so much, because to me he didn’t exist but to my children he’s ever-present. And my wife is incredible. She understands how much our children need me to be that man, how much they look to me for those things that only a father can give to them, just as they look to her for things that only a mother can give. It’s that yin and yang, that push and pull, that delicate balance that they need, that we all need.

Mom can’t be Dad because she’s too busy being Mom, and that’s okay. We need her to be.

Sam

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