This time of the year, my wife perks her ears up and starts thinking about what gift I might want for Father’s Day. My four year old son doesn’t, bless him. I never want anything, but this year I’d like something very specific for Father’s Day: fewer dads.
Sure, there’s tons of stuff I could conjure up on a selfish little Father’s Day wishlist. I could – much to the chagrin of ad wizards and marketers everywhere – use a new tie. Or, if my son can muster up enough gusto to crank out “DAD” in crayon on a piece of construction paper, it’d be great. But I’m a simple man; I just want guys to stop having kids if they’re not fully committed to the idea of fatherhood.
First things first: I love being a father. I love great dads. I even love good dads. Being a father takes time and effort, and if you look around, you see a lot of awesome guys working to be real, involved dads whose children will grow up beautifully. And there are a lot of dads that unfortunately aren’t able to see their kids – due to a divorce gone bad or even a military deployment. I hope all of the great dads out there feel loved this Father’s Day. But this article isn’t for them.
(I also don’t have the authority to tell moms what to do, so it looks like it’s just gonna be us, dudes.)
Fathers are important, to say the least. According to the National Fatherhood Initiative, kids that grow up in fatherless homes are more likely to be poor, have higher rates of incarceration and higher rates of obesity. It was also found that fatherless sons tend to experience puberty later (but father their own kids sooner). Kids’ levels of persistence has also been attributed to fathers.
But it’s not just about having a dad in the home – they’ve got to be happy dads too. Other recent science has found that dads’ depression levels (pre- and post-natally) affect depression levels in their kids, and dads that cheat on their wives create sons that cheat. This is the important thing to remember – that just having dad in the house isn’t a guarantee that a kid will turn out well. Dad has to want to be a dad.
In our post-meta-modern digital world, where we keep up with the worldwide Joneses, I’m seeing more people decide (by choice or by chance) to be parents. But it’s been riddled with asterisks. Ever hear this one – “we’re not using protection and if it happens, it happens”? Spoiler alert: it always happens. And if you’re not ready for it, it can be jarring.
If you talk to fathers, most will tell you that the newborn phase tests you from every angle. I remember being physically run-down from lack of sleep, emotionally run-down from bickering with my wife, and mentally frazzled from having to think about caring for a tiny person. Thankfully, my marriage was strong. My wife and I talked through any problem that came up and really became each others’ rocks. We’re not perfect people, but we put in a lot of work to stay sane. And all while both of us had postpartum depression. That’s right! Both moms and dads get postpartum. Even adoptive fathers get it. So it’s important to make sure that both mom and dad aren’t depressed once the baby arrives. It’s tough.
More recently, social media has become a peer pressure for couples to have kids. Here’s a humblebrag: I’ve had childless friends look at my photos and say “I can’t wait to have a baby and do that.” And whatever “that” is – teach my son to throw a paper airplane, take him to a comic book store, play video games with him – it’s not worth having a kid solely for that. I only broadcast the good times online; no one wants to see a photo of my son and I fighting tooth-and-nail over something insignificant like his inability to find the neck-hole in his t-shirt or me trying to actually turn off the video games.
I’m breezing through this, but let me repeat: having a child is tough. Being a father is incredible beyond words, but it’s difficult all the same. I’ve never fought about something so much in my life, whether it’s with my wife over how we’re parenting (or rather, how we hope we’re parenting), or with my son over those dumb, day-to-day details.
If you’ve ever caught MTV’s docudrama “Teen Mom” or its predecessor, “16 & Pregnant,” you know what happens when people that are not wired emotionally and mentally for childcare have babies. More often than not on those shows, the relationships end, the mothers don’t graduate from high school, and the fathers skip out.
But we assume that once someone hits marriage age, they’re ready for marriage, and subsequently, kids. With the divorce rate over 50%, clearly, people aren’t thinking about consequences. Nothing will test your marriage like a child. You’ll find your upbringing clashing with your spouse’s. You’ll find your instincts at odds with your own parents’. And god forbid you look anything up on the Internet! In short, marriage alone takes an open mind and humble attitude – and having a baby pushes it even more.
So for Father’s Day this year, I’d love to know that every father out there decided to enter into their new phase of life willingly, thoughtfully and for the right reasons. And if a guy’s not ready to be a real, involved father, I want him to use some form of birth control.
Great fathers are an inspiration and we need more of those – but if I know that one wishy-washy guy has decided not to have a baby because he’s sure of whether he wants to be in charge of a child’s life, I’d get exactly what I want this Father’s Day.
Happy Father’s Day to the awesome dads I know. And to my friends who don’t yet have a kid – don’t rush to be part of the club. We’ll still be here when you’re ready.