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Commentary: Dads take it on the chin as Father's Day approaches

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 12, 2013: Father’s day is just around the corner, and the anticipation in my home is palpable. Today I received an e-mail from the best mother in the world that said: “You need to be concerned.”

Below it was a forwarded press release, with the headline: Survey Reveals Dad Loses out to Mom. Two-thirds would move Mom in over Dad.

I will spare you most of the details, but the survey from Visiting Angels, an in-home senior care company, says children would prefer moving mom into their homes (if they had to) by a substantial margin.

“Most say Dad:

  • has worse hygiene
  • is more likely than Mom to say inappropriate things
  • is sloppier than mom
  • lazier than mom
  • would want to control the TV more than Mom.”

To this I say, Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. And so what.
My biggest fear is that my grown children would want to move in with me and not the other way around. (Is that an inappropriate thing to say?)

I was not an admirer of President George W. Bush’s verbal dexterity, but he uttered a phrase that has resonated strongly with me: “the soft bigotry of low expectations.” He was opposed to them when it came to at-risk students. I am for them when it comes to dads.

I have always tried to live down to my children’s low expectations. Some may consider this lazy (another one on the list where dad comes up short), but I consider it self-sacrificing. When I asked my kids to change their own diapers or failed to cheer for a great report card, I knew they would only revere their mother more. My gift to her. I expected no gratitude for this (and received none). It’s just how I roll.

I liked to think of my role as a parent as Mr. Reality Check. The world probably would not find my kids’ ungrammatical and misspelled reports as charming as their mother did when they were in the first grade. So I tried to keep them humble: Telling the first child that we had her only so she could babysit the other two; telling the second child, that we had the third because we absolutely wanted to get it right; telling the third that after we took one look at her we threw in the towel.

Of course, mom was looking better and better at that point, though she had little to offer them besides nonstop nurturing, unconditional love and support. All overrated.

My kids know that my love is conditional. I have zero tolerance for any offspring who commit homicides (and even less for patricide). Need bail money. Ask Ms. Unconditional Love.

I am the father of three daughters. I have always said if I had to have three of a kind, make them girls. If it were the other way around, I’m pretty sure our home would not smell so good. (That hygiene thing.)

But little girls do have a thing for dolls, a head scratcher for me. “You know, honey, those dolls aren’t real,” I would say. “I don’t know why you pretend otherwise.”

I compared my girls to the three little pigs. Who is building her house of bricks? I would ask.

I tried to quash the popular notion that parents love their children all the same. In a given week, one child is always loved more than another. It’s a dirty little secret parents keep from their children. I regularly let my girls know where they stand. “You are second this week, honey. You might have been first, but your sister gave us a grandchild. Try a little harder.”

I remember once telling a daughter she was running fourth behind Chloe, our dog.

You might think that this approach might breed fear, or even more likely, contempt on the part of my children. Not the case. They fail to take me seriously. On a recent Father’s Day they all got together and gave me a beautiful picture posing with my favorite, Chloe, in the foreground.

They regularly threaten to dump me in a nursing home at the second sign of dementia (having claimed to have already spotted the first). Does Visiting Angels have a facility made of straw? That’s where they would put me.

That’s OK. If they each turn out to be just like their mom -- and thanks to me they are very much headed in that direction -- that would be the best Father’s Day gift of all.

Richard H. Weiss, a writer and editor, is married to Beacon health and science editor Sally J. Altman, the proud father of three ordinary children, Emily, Elizabeth and Katharine, and master of a really great dog, Chloe.

This essay is also appearing in the Jewish Light.

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