These are the '80s, and Father doesn't know best anymore. As a father, I find myself wondering, on this day ostensibly set aside to revere the virtues of the male parent, just how little father knows these days.
A short time ago its seems, Father won acclaim for knowing best. Was life so much simpler then? How could father know best before the advent of Parent Effectiveness Training? How did Father know how to handle his teenagers before the creation of Tough Love? How did Robert Young get to be the great problem solver of his day without benefit of yoga, jogging, or tofu? He didn't even bond with his children in the birthing room.Father doesn't know best anymore. These days Father squeaks by if he's lucky and fails the fountain of wisdom test he mastered so cunningly in the '50s. He has tumbled from his lofty position as resident guru to where he is virtually indistinguishable from Mom.
Father once knew best because he was the only one who ventured forth into the world. Mother kept the hearth nice and tidy and made home feel like home with the reassuring scent of apple pie emanating from the kitchen at all times. There was no time for Mom to be learning the wiles of life, giving Dad the honors by default. For all of Dad's wisdom and knowledge 30 years ago, there wasn't a pretentuous bone in his body. He was the indisputable sage.
As women began to file out of kitchens and into graduate schools, Father didn't seem to know best anymore. And when women filed out of graduate schools into high corporate and management positions, it was questionable if father knew anything at all.
While Mom climbed career ladder after career ladder, Dad started spending more time with the kids. He discovered he didn't know that much, after all. He pleaded ignorance to bathing the baby, braiding his daughter's long hair, and baking muffins for 24 kids in the nursery school class. Dad's omniscient status lost precious ground. This proved humbling at the beginning but perhaps beneficial in the long run.
My generation of fathers finds itself in a unique position. Nobody takes our wisdom for granted, but we have gained entry into a completely new paternal world. We have learned to nurture our children to the point where father has become a verb. The knowledge we acquired these past few years has led us to conclude that fathering can't take place on a consultant basis: Whenever the family system goes on the blink, Dad comes riding to the homefront on his white horse and offers worldly savvy, restoring order to chaos.
Dad may not be as smart as he once was, but he's around a lot more. He may not always offer the right answer, but he has learned the tonic to remedy many teary situations. What he has lost in wisdom, he has gained in trust.
Women seem to think they own a monopoly on life's great juggling act - balancing career and home, providing and nurturing. But men are torn equally between those two demands, trying desperately to operate at peak efficiency on the work force and as a parent. Dad is not immune from the guilt of failing to do it all.
These are the '80s, and no parent knows best. Each is winded from peddling real hard, trying to defy the limits imposed by a 24-hour day. But it's Father's Day now, a time for showering appreciation. The madness of daily life has left no casualties; the children are brimming with pride over their gifts made with little hands; they are prepared to offer a day of leisure for the old man. That means an exhausting day of frolic, but their intentions are to spoil dad the whole day through with their love.
Father knows very little these days, yet Father's Day is very satisfying. There's lot of love in the air, the kind of love which reflects a special relationship savored throughout the year.
* Tom Goldsmith is a freelance writer living in Salt Lake City.