Mothers, take bow on Father’s Day

Published 12:45 pm Monday, June 11, 2012

As I entered the kitchen for breakfast, my wife greeted me: “Happy Father’s Day.” I found this a great way to begin the day. The kids and grandkids were to phone later to supplement the cards already arrived.

Before I poured my coffee, I came back at her: “Thank you for your part in making me a father.”

Of course, I had in mind her biological role without which I could not have become a father. Even as I said it with some humor, a far more serious thought of a far more important role came to mind, and I included it. Mothers make fathers. What makes a man a really good father is his children’s mother, his own wife.

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Here’s an example. One of the most amazing things Ann ever said (and I reminded her of it that morning) was when our daughter was a baby. I was holding her in front of me and tickling her nose with the forehead hair I then had and she was laughing hard. Her mother said, “I think she’s going to be a daddy’s girl.” I was almost shocked by this selflessness. She was actually saying, “Go ahead and make our daughter a daddy’s girl. I want that for her.” What she did not say but what she did was, “And I’ll promote this.”

Mothers make fathers not by expecting their husbands to function as fathers but by encouragingly anticipating they will. You became my husband; now, be a father to our children. More than Be a father, Be their father.

Mother subtly but successfully communicates to the children that Daddy is Someone. She treats him this way. She speaks to him this way, and she talks about him this way. She creates an expectancy, an anticipation, in the children. The children accept father as Daddy and Dad, and — much to his own surprise — he finds he actually is.

More than a few new fathers have confessed, “I didn’t know I had it in me; I don’t know how it happened, but it just did.”

Maybe. But I’ll put my bets on the children’s mother, the guy’s unassuming but wise wife. Mothers very much want their husbands to be an attentive, caring, and effective father to their children. Mothers know very well they cannot do it alone.

Women who have suffered a very poor father of their own, sometimes desperately want their husbands to be a genuine father. Sometimes. My observation, however, is the mothers who are most insistent on their husbands being good fathers are those who have themselves experienced a good father. They remember how this nourished them, and they are jealous for their own children to have the same experience.

I don’t know which is the greater contribution to a man’s fathering skill: himself having had a good father or now having an encouraging wife. I am more conscious of emulating my father than I am of my wife’s contribution, but this doesn’t indicate his was the greater. It is easier to remember what my father did than it is to recognize what my wife has done. (And I suspect it’s also easier to admit.)

Another observation is that mothers are usually better judges as to how effective their husbands are as fathers than is the father himself. Some have ensured their family spends time with other families where he can observe an effective father. Some encourage their husbands to attend fathering seminars or read books on the subject. A wise wife will avoid offending her husband by suggestions of this sort, but if he is convinced of her love and commitment to him, he will listen to her sincere appeal. Most important is to talk a lot about how good your father was to you and how you love him for this.

My Father’s Day message for Sunday, then, is this: Fathers, recognize the crucial role your wife plays in making you a good father. Boys, find a woman like your mother and marry her. Girls, become the kind of mother your mom is and make your husband the kind of father yours is.

And, Mothers, please take a bow on this Father’s Day.