Xenia Kathryn Tussing lives in the not-so-small town of Portland, Oregon where she and her family are active in a vibrant Church community that has grown from mission-status to full-fledged parish since it's beginning in 1997. A life-long artist with a BFA in Studio Arts, she is always seeking out moments to create amidst the scurry of family life. Xenia Kathryn chronicles her ponderings and projects regularly at Xenia Kathryn: Motherhood Illustrated.
A few weeks ago I reached into my mailbox and pulled out a free copy of “Parents” magazine’s June issue. These random complimentary issues are meant to lure me into subscribing. Well, I’m a hard sell, but I’ll gladly devour a free magazine cover to cover if given a chance. Like most mainstream parenting magazines, “Parents” is typically geared more towards moms than they are to dads. In honor of Father’s Day, though, this particular issue had a feature directed towards dads. I took liberty to read this specialized segment, and ended up with eye-opening insight into the world of 21st-century dads.
In one article, “Dads Doing it all,” author Darshak Sanghavi describes the challenges of being a father in today’s world. Many fathers work hard to be emotionally available, supportive and present at all extracurricular functions, and an active co-chair in the realm of household responsibilities. Of course, I’m married to a man who happens to be great father, and I didn’t need a magazine article to tell me that fathering is indeed hard work. However, it’s rare that I hear a man articulate the unique difficulties of fatherhood, especially in a culture where the pressures of work and family are competing and unbending.
Though this dynamic might not apply to every family, it does seem that the 1950s imagery of a father; returning home after a long day at work, calling for his slippers and pipe as he reads the paper, is becoming obsolete. Personally, that wouldn’t fly in my household. By 5:30 pm, I’m anxious for my husband to come home and relieve me of the kids so I can get dinner prepared in relative peace. After an 8-hour work day of problem solving, project planning, meetings and presentations, my own husband comes home to what Darshak refers to as a “second shift,” and he helps as we transition into our evening routine.
As the wife of such a Super Dad, I can say that I directly benefit from the support of a husband who takes his role as a father and spouse seriously. From the day our first child was born, he was eager to help with anything and everything. If he could have breastfed our infants, he probably would have. I don’t say that to embarrass him or to diminish his masculinity; I only say it to point out that I have a very nurturing and involved husband. He also pays the bills and keeps our finances in check, gets the kids ready each morning, and drives the older two to school. Meanwhile I get to stay home in my pajamas until 9. Maybe 10.
Because he works so close to our kids’ school, he’s available to help with various needs or events there. In fact, he’s single-handedly conquered all 20 hours of required volunteer work on behalf of our family via technology support and field trip chaperoning.
Am I boasting? I don’t mean to be. I’m sure many dads today are just as active and involved in their children’s lives. The reason I highlight this litany of feats is to contrast it to the role of dads just a few decades ago.
Take my grandfather, for instance; a first generation Italian-American, a devout man who took good care of his family. That said, he never attended his son’s high school basketball games. I don’t believe this was done maliciously, it simply was not expected for a dad in the 1970s to make it a priority. My dad, in turn, not only attended nearly every sporting event of ours, but he almost always was the coach. My husband had a dad who was perhaps even more involved, which undoubtedly shaped his view of what the role of a father entails. Perhaps it is a generational thing, as each generation of dads works to offer their own kids an enhanced and improved version of their own childhood, whether that be financially, emotionally, disciplinarily and/or spiritually.
But is it possible to be the “perfect dad”? Should dads be expected to “do it all,” when they (presumably) already do so much? My husband’s level of involvement leaves me inspired, at times, and convicted at other times. Perhaps I should take on more to alleviate his load? As a stay-at-home mom, am I really doing my best to serve my family, or am I relying on his support and help to free me up for “me time.”? These are difficult questions, and I have plenty of artful excuses to dodge them. Yet how can I expect “free time” each day when he barely has any free time to himself?
My spiritual father often reminds me to listen to my conscience. My head is filled with neurotic notions, emotion-driven cues and spontaneous thoughts which I often confuse for my conscience. Undisciplined as I am, it takes work and practice to differentiate the voice of my God-inspired conscience from the seemingly louder choir of logismoi. What does this have to do with this article? Listening to my conscience will help me be a better mother, and hopefully relieve my husband of some of the tasks and chores I’ve come to expect from him. As a couple, we try our best to avoid the bickering game of “Who Does More?” We realized early in our marriage that it was rather futile, and when resentment surfaces and we’re faced with the temptation to compare, we are consoled with the truth: We BOTH work hard. However, that doesn’t mean I can’t ask myself, “Am I REALLY doing my best?”
My husband is, in my eyes, a successful 21st-century dad who selflessly runs circles around me, thanks to his time management and dedication. We’ve had our ups and downs over the past nine years, and I know him well enough to not place him on a pedestal. However, I’m not ashamed to admit that he makes me a better wife and mother, and I still have a lot to learn from him.
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