Fatherhood is a term that comes with a lot of baggage, tied all too often with manhood, masculinity, and strength. Fathers might be programmed to believe that what defines us as fathers is how we behave, how we govern, and the tasks we perform. While the meaning of fatherhood has evolved to allow for fathers who demonstrate a kinder, gentler demeanor, and fathers are perceived as more tender in regards to how they relate to their children, the perception of the father lags somewhat, lost in the dogma that demands the father be someone that is perceived as the “rock” in the family, strong in demeanor and in body.
I think fathers sometimes wrestle with what strength is and what sort of façade they are supposed to exude. My recent hernia surgery has forced me to consider my role in the home and the role of fathers in general.
The surgery itself was uneventful. The surgeon did what he had to do, and I went home to recover. When asked, the surgeon was vague in regards to the recovery time, stating that every patient was different. Assorted technicians, nurses, and other staff that I had spoken with prior to the surgery left me with the impression that the recovery time was brief, that in a couple of days I would be up and about. After a couple of days, I was barely shuffling across the floor. For the first time in my adult life, I was incapable of doing anything to help around the house; I had to be waited on by members of my family, and my responsibilities were shared among them.
As a rule, I could not lift anything for the first several days. Following the initial recovery, I could lift only those items weighing 20 pounds or less. I shudder to think what might have happened had I lifted something that weighed 21 pounds. At any rate, I soon realized that this weight limit was as arbitrary as the recovery period. I was sore for what turned out to be weeks, and at any time I twisted myself the wrong way or attempted to pick up an item that was considered by my incision to be too heavy, I was instantaneously and fiercely reminded that I was sewed together without and within. I was rendered immobile from my point of view; I truly felt useless.
My family is amazing. My wife and my children helped without pause or complaint. They helped with the cooking, cleaning, etc. They ran errands. My wife shoveled the snow. I sat pondering my fate (my fortune when considering a break from shoveling snow). I began to realize that my role as a father has not always been doing odd jobs or stereotypical manly tasks. As a father, my most important role has been to set an example.
To care for my family and others is something that has unconsciously been conveyed to my children. They volunteered to help, not just because we expect this of them, but because they expect this of themselves. My role as a father is not defined by what I do physically. My role as a father is defined by the behaviors I exhibit and the standards that are regularly expected by my wife and me.
Throughout my recovery period, I worked towards becoming a productive family member again. I also became very thankful for how much my role as a partner and a parent is valued. As well, I am very proud of my children. They worked hard to care for Dad.
I have become comfortable with the fact that I am still limited in terms of how I can exert myself. I can lift more, to be sure. I am mindful, however, that if I exert myself too much, I can inflict further damage on myself. I avoid the temptation to “be a man.” If an item is too heavy, my reaction is to pass the chore to someone else. Recently, we donated a cast iron sink to a neighbor. This sink required at least three or four people to move. Our neighbor enlisted two volunteers to help; I enlisted my oldest daughter. Without hesitation or shame, I acknowledge that I recently had surgery and was not about to attempt lifting one corner of that sink. My daughter, a base on a cheerleading team, displayed little effort in holding up her end.
Strength is not necessarily a physical attribute. Physical strength does not necessarily make one a better man or a better father. A father has strength of character and a mind-set that allows the person to reveal vulnerability to those he loves and those around him. A father leads by example, creating a strong family legacy that will survive without end.