Dad With a Capital “D”
The father is always a Republican toward his son, and his mother’s always a Democrat. – Robert Frost
I grew up in a house with four boys, where neighbors routinely referred to my mother as “that poor woman” and my father would walk in each night at 7 p.m. and calmly ask, “Who gets the belt?”
“Let’s see,” she would begin. “Michael and his friends lobbed oranges at what they thought was a slow moving group of cars that turned out to be a funeral procession. Our garage is full of audiovisual equipment stolen from the middle school after Tom used the glass cutter art kit we gave him for Christmas to cut a hole in the window. The boys weren’t sure what to do with the merchandise. Apparently your son does not have someone to fence the goods yet. Miles was suspended for streaking what he thought was an all girls high school but mistakenly turned out to be the all girls elementary school and Patrick’s school counselor thinks he may have some form of personality disorder, as it’s the only acceptable excuse for his behavior. Otherwise, it was a pretty good day.” My father, unphased and a firm believer in corporal punishment, would swiftly mete out justice in hopes that his boys would grow up to be stewards of the community and not wards of the criminal justice system.
My father was a Dad with a capital D. He would routinely break into tirades over politics, any form of incompetence, and “liberals” – including our local minister (Dad was convinced he was an agent for the KGB). He never apologized. Empathy was something “liberals” used as a Trojan horse term for income redistribution. He never shared his feelings or cried, except perhaps at the collapse of the 1969 Cubs. He was the king of his castle. While his boys gave him a run for his money, our kingdom was under the martial law of a benevolent dictatorship – the illegitimate offspring of Pinochet and Marshal Tito. While no one questioned for a minute that my mother was the real genius behind my father’s “success”, both as a businessman and a parent, he was the executive and judicial branch of the family. Though Mom’s intuition could detect a fire, fight, any form of alcohol, illicit material or inappropriate behavior within a five-mile radius, he was the man. Their partnership celebrated its fiftieth year this past summer.
Yet “The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit” generation carried obvious inequities. Its chronic male chauvinism and silent female martyrdom led to unresolved conflict and dysfunction. Later mothers and society, with the help of Gloria Steinem (another Russian Spy), broke through to celebrate equality and liberate women to apply their cunning intuition across a broader field of personal and professional opportunities. The fathers, the Dads with a big D were left behind. They grumbled, swore and continued to lament the erosion of societal values along with the slow emasculation of the American male. As their sons wed and became a next generation of fathers, the sons quickly realized they were entering uncharted waters; Dad with the capital D appeared to be an outdated point of reference.
“I never changed as many damned diapers with all four of you boys as you do for her,” my father mumbled as I nimbly changed my newborn daughter. He, thinking I’d been neutered in some UFO secret experiment; me, wondering when my wife would offer him a sprig of hemlock to stir his ice tea. However, as I got older, I regained an appreciation for the big D.
Let’s face it, being a dad today carries a lot of benefits, though my job description is now titled with a lower case d. While I see growing up in Big D’s house like France under Napoleon, he looks at my house like a twisted version of Lord of the Flies. In my home, dad gets home from work to a wife and teenaged daughter locked in mortal combat over the amount of midriff her outfit is showing. Like a UN peacekeeper, I don my blue helmet and try to break up the brutal internecine fighting, only to have them both turn on me and chase me into my office. When disciplining my two boys, I’m supposed to use intimidating language like, “Let’s use our inside voices,” and the brutally decisive “Okay, mister, this time you really have lost a privilege.” Dad with a big D wants to vomit. The boys react to me as if I have the retaliatory power of Luxembourg and continue with their misbehavior. You know what finally works? A page out of the old Big D’s playbook – the occasional yell, immediate intervention, and the threat…always followed up with determined consequences.
Evolution is a funny thing. The old big D Dad had to go, but the little d dad has to develop new tricks and methods to ensure his survival. Occasionally activating those less politically correct genes to keep the herd moving west isn’t always a bad thing. It’s nice to remember you can combine the soft skin of restraint and compassion with the hard sinews of being decisive, fair and tough – little d and big D combining to make a better man.