Let me be frank: I don’t have a lot of good things to say about fathers. Mine left over 20 years ago, about a month after my 12th birthday. I haven’t seen him in over a decade and a half, and I’ve only spoken to him once or twice in that same period. The life-changing event of his departure colors all my earlier memories, as well. I only hope that I someday have the chance to prove to myself that I can do a better job.
That’s not to say I know nothing of the subject. I have a stepfather, and that tie that binds us has lasted essentially my entire adult life. For that reason, however, I’ve never seen him as a father in the parental sense. In my mind, the relationship between us is closer to equal.
My grandfather, who passed away in 2012, was also like a father to me, as much as he was to his seven children and the other descendants. Again, though, it’s not the same. He was far older (62 years, to be exact), so I didn’t feel the same bond that exists between parent and child.
In the media, fathers fall into a few broad categories. There’s the abusive alcoholic, the saintly sage, the blue-collar buffoon, and the vaguely man-shaped void that appears far too often in life and art. Characterizing a real, living man in such a way diminishes him, though. I understand the needs of the medium, but how hard is it to give depth to such an integral part of a family, especially in a story centered on that family?
I can’t say I’m an expert on fatherly affection. It’s something I’ve been denied for so long that I’ve all but forgotten what it’s like. But that doesn’t mean I can’t hold opinions on what it should be. Fathers should be leaders. They should be knowledgable, strong of body and spirit, yet also sympathetic. Perhaps it’s outdated to say that a father is the head of a household, but he still holds one of the top positions, no matter where you fall on the political spectrum. He should act like it. Fathers have less attachment to their children by design—they didn’t spend nine months carrying them around—but “less” doesn’t have to mean “none”.
If you’re writing a story about fathers, now’s a good time. Yesterday was a day for them. The other 364? They should share them with their sons and daughters.