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My New Book!
My New Book!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

August 18-19, 2012: Crowd-sourcing American Dads

[To honor a week that began with my Dad’s birthday and includes my own, I’ve featured a series on fatherhood in American culture, history, and literature. This is the next crowd-sourced post, drawn from responses and suggestions from readers and other American Studiers. Add yours below!]
Steve Railton writes that “I feel pretty good about all the various roles I've played in my life, but the one I loved the most, felt most fulfilled by, was ‘dad’ to you and your sister.  I don't think my father could have seen that as an option. ‘Dad’ in his generation meant: go out of the house early every workday, come home late, and bring that paycheck back with you. Conversely, my mom (even though she was Phi Beta Kappa, B.A., and worked until her first pregnancy) never had many options either.  It's gotta be good that the boxes in which our culture, like every other, wants us to climb are a lot more elastic these days -- at least for the middle class. Of course, that group is being shrunk even faster, probably, than the boxes are growing.  When two incomes are necessary to keep making credit card payments, no one gets to be ‘Mr. or Ms. Mom.’”
Travel writer Nicole Fanning responds to the Washington and Lincoln post by sending along this article on the Mary Todd Lincoln historic house.
And Rob Gosselin sends along the following piece on his own experiences as a Dad:
“A Simple Decision
As a divorced father I think the best decision I made raising my two young sons was to make them share a bedroom when they were finally allowed to spend time with me.
When I was still living a married life I owned a large house. My wife was quite insistent on our sons having their own rooms just as soon as they were old enough to peacefully sleep through the night. Since she was a stay-at-home mom, and responsible for all things children, I considered this issue part of her realm. I sheepishly conceded to her the authority to make this bold decision.
Not long after my sons moved into their own rooms I was forced to move out of that home of ten years when friends and lawyers, approached by a frightened and frustrated now ex-wife, concurred that I was deep in the throws of severe mental illness and unfit to be a father. Almost everyone involved, with me being the only exception, decided that for the good of the family changes had to be made. And the primary change was I had to go.
Fortunately I did get professional help, and one very long year later my life changed from having supervised day visits to being allowed to spend entire alternate weekends with my sons. I was still living in a men’s homeless shelter at the time, so I had to start taking my sons to my parent’s house to spend my custodial weekends with them in a more suitable environment.
My parent’s house has two spare bedrooms. That’s where I had a choice. My sons could share a room, or they could both get their own room and I could sleep on the couch. I chose the first of these two options.
When I was a boy my older brother and I shared a bedroom. That’s where, late at night, we would talk in the dark. I can’t remember most of what we discussed, but I do know that was our time to just say what we were feeling. We owned that room, and in it we were allowed to start being the men we would eventually grow up to be.
When my sons and I spent our weekends at my parent’s house I would tuck them into bed for the night and go next door to my own room. If I was quiet I could hear them through the wall. At first they would be silent, but then they would start to talk. I could not, nor did I ever try to, make out what they were saying. I didn’t care. All I knew was that they were being brothers on their own terms and in their own safe place.
That was nine years ago. Today, because of a lot of hard work on my part, I am emotionally closer to my sons than I ever was to my own father, and he was a traditional live-at-home dad.
This close relationship was recently tested when my nephew, a young man just a few years older than my sons, died under very tragic circumstances. My sons were very close to their cousin. It was a very traumatic experience for them.
During this difficult time I talked to my sons, no holds barred, about all of the issues surrounding this young man’s untimely death. I was completely honest with them in explaining all the difficult details of his passing. I was humbled when my sons were then able to talk to me about what they were experiencing as they said goodbye to their much loved cousin.
Not long after the memorial service for my nephew my sons and I went back to my parent’s house for our weekend together. In the dark of their shared room I’m sure they talked about their cousin’s death very differently than when they talked about it with me.
As close as I am to my sons, and as much as I try and always answer even their hardest of questions, I am grateful they have that small, shared room for a retreat. It gives them a place to try and sort out, in their own way, what can sometimes be a very confusing and frightening world.”
Next series next week!
PS. Any takes or thoughts of yours on fatherhood in American culture, literature, society, history, or your own experiences? Add ‘em below!
8/18 Memory Day nominees: A tie between two pioneering Americans, in very different ways, Virginia Dare and Meriwether Lewis.
8/19 Memory Day nominees: Another tie, this time between two men without whom the history of television and popular culture would be very different, Philo Farnsworth and Gene Roddenberry.

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