June 18, 2006

Father's Day

Last month, for mother’s day, I wrote a severe indictment regarding the superiority of the feminine versus the masculine. I knew at the time that I may have been too unforgiving for my own sex. As a result, I would like to take this time to make amends and speak a bit about the essentiality of fatherhood and discuss the possibility of a masculinity that is not based on outdated notions of physicality and power, but rather on transcending and evolving into more balanced gender roles.

“Competition breeds conflict,” this was one of my father’s mantras as I was growing up. “Have fun.” “ Don’t worry.” “Do anything you want in life, but do it right.” “Play music loudly.” “Don’t care what people think of you.” “You don’t need money, or clothes, or toys, or the right car to be yourself.” “Don’t believe this American Dream.”

Don’t get me wrong; my father did not spend his time sermonizing lessons. (Not all the time.) These were lessons I learned by simply watching his behavior. I cannot compute now, how many hours I must have spent observing my father: watching him work in the darkroom, watching he and his friends argue politics, watching him dance around the house on Sunday mornings. My father was, like I am sure most fathers are for boys, my hero. The list of lessons I learned from the man is long, but I think the most important lesson I learned from my dad was to always question. Everything. The world I experienced at home was drastically different than the world I experienced at school. My father didn’t understand American culture, so he was never engulfed by it. And by hovering on the periphery of the status quo, he taught me to tread lightly and question everything the American Dream claimed to offer. By scrutinizing my father, I realized that I didn’t need the latest Gotcha t-shirt to be cool. I could wear one of his sweaters to school. I didn’t need the $100 Nike Airs, I could wear different color Chuck Taylor’s. It was difficult growing up in a bi-cultural, dichotomous world, but I want to thank my dad for always showing me how to be myself. Even as that person transformed on an almost daily basis.

Another significant lesson I learned from my dad was to always have fun. No matter what the stress, no matter how many eighteen-hour days he put in the darkroom, he seemed to always enjoy his time off. Whether he was working in the garden, painting, or getting a bit too drunk for our comfort, my father understood that his work did not constitute his life. His work was simply a means to get what we needed. He understood that if you weren’t enjoying your life, there was no point in living it. Sometimes, when I talk to him today, I wish that he would remember that lesson.

Next: Music. I believe the love of music is genetic. From the time I can remember, music has played a major role in my life. I remember lying on the couch watching him singing along or air guitaring to Pink Floyd, or leading the Philharmonic orchestra. I realized that music was not an aversion or hobby, it was essential to life. Without music, life was not possible. My father and I always shared our music. When I was in the eighth grade I gave him records to listen to; The Cure, Depeche Mode, and The Smiths, while he educated me with The Doors, Led Zeppelin, and Bob Dylan. I pretended like I hated it, but I would spend hours studying those records.

My father taught me how to draw, paint, and appreciate seeing the world from many angles. Like most people, my dad was not perfect. Even in his imperfections he has taught me many valuable lessons about parenthood. This is not the time to go into those issues, but as I approach fatherhood myself, I will use both the positive and negative lessons I learned from my father. I will try to pass down the positives to my children, and I will make sure not to repeat his mistakes.

In my mother’s day post, I was a bit harsh on men in general. I said, “masculinity is emotionally weak, insecure, afraid and jealous of the feminine strength, we rely on violence, machismo and juvenile, immature exhibitions of physical strength to try and prove that we are somehow more powerful.” However, I hope as each generation of men grows, we can take what we need from both genders, and so we can evolve. I think the masculine, despite its many flaws, teaches us to relax and not always worry or stress. We men, we fathers are still children ourselves. And while our wives and mother’s try to teach us responsibility and maturity, deep inside we never allow ourselves to fully grow up. I feel this connection to our inner child is crucial to keeping human beings engaged and spontaneous. It is important that our fathers remain children at heart.

Wives and mothers may sometimes look at this type of behavior as irresponsible or immature, but in reality it is a vital connection between parent and child. Looking back on my childhood, this vitality brings back my favorite memories. As a child I felt that I was discovering the world with my father. Observing him growing up, he never seemed to know what he was doing, but I trusted him. I always felt that we were in it together. My father made me believe that there wasn’t anything in the world I couldn’t do, and at the end of the day, is there any lesson more important for a child to learn. To all the dads out there, I am beyond excited to enter your ranks! I so look forward to this new role in my life. I love you Mehran. I can't wait to see you work your magic as Grandpa! Thank you. Happy Father’s Day.

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