Friday, June 24, 2011

Inventing Fatherhood: Caldo de Perro

I had intended to post something for Father's Day, and then Father's Day came and went.  But I've been thinking about how we celebrate fatherhood in this country, especially after reading (thanks to the Prompt-ly list and some Facebook friends) the recent NYTimes article about a single woman whose sperm donor is a friend who now lives part-time with her and her son (the other half of the time he lives with his partner), and goes by the title "uncle."  There are a host of issues about secrecy and identity that I could talk about here (e.g. how one tells a child where he/she comes from), but I will leave those for another blogger to tackle.  What I was struck by was how the labels we have for the people who shape the lives of our children, and the celebration of those contributions, are woefully inadequate, especially given the way families vary now.

I come from a family that is pretty "traditional" according to most standards: a dad, a mom, both of them my biological parents.   And yet, when I was growing up, there were a host of other really important parental figures in my life.  If we're just talking about male figures, there are at least two: my high school friend's father, whom I referred to as "Dad," gave me the kind of open affection that my own father could not.  Twenty years later, though he lives an hour away, he baked a big pan of pasta for us when N. was born, and had his daughter deliver it.  I'd ask him for parenting advice in a heartbeat.  My high school English teacher, though he was a little more avuncular, was the kind of confidante I had always wanted in a father figure.  He made it possible for me to survive high school with my self-esteem intact, and gave me a safe haven to escape to when I needed it.  I felt like I had a safety net in that relationship that I didn't feel I had at home.

The family arrangement described in the NY Times article is imperfect.  But what family arrangement--even the traditional one-mother one-father household--is?  Fatherhood (and motherhood, for that matter) is a construct that we've invented--a problematic one, at that, given how we put parents on pedestals--and what really matters is that our children feel loved, have role models and caregivers of both genders, and have parents who are supported in the important work of nurturing the next generation.

Did you know that Children’s Day observations in the United States (during which parents are also celebrated) predate both Mother's and Father's Day,  though a permanent annual single Children's Day observation is not made at the national level?  And there is a Parent's Day, celebrated on the 4th Sunday of July, signed into law by President Clinton in 1994?  (Interesting aside: U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said that "Replacing Mother's Day and Father's Day with a Parents' Day should be considered, as an observance more consistent with a policy of minimizing traditional sex-based differences in parental roles."

It's funny.  As I was mulling over this post, I realized that I miss the person I wish my father might have become.  In a way, the longer he's been gone, the more I invent him.  It's not that I don't have good memories, or that I don't appreciate what he gave me when he raised me.  It's just that my relationship with him didn't follow the Hallmark script, and certainly didn't involve barbecue, beer, a tie, and a lounge chair by the TV set.  (Actually, scratch that ... there was  a recliner in front of the TV set.  But the TV was playing Sabado Gigante.)  And that he wasn't the only one who made me who I am.

So here's to important men in our lives everywhere.  Not just the biological fathers, or the adoptive ones, but the men who mentor us, who hold our hands as we take our first and four hundredth steps, who make sacrifices for us, who teach us and scold us.  It doesn't matter, in the end, I think, what name they go by ... what matters is that they were there.

Caldo de Perro 
(a recipe my father would have liked more than barbecue, made for me by some good friends just before I had N.)

1 T. olive oil
2 onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
grated zest 1 orange
4 c. fish stock
1 1/2 lb. firm white fish, chunked
8 small new potatoes, halved
4 c. spinach
1/2 c. orange juice
1/4 c. lime juice

Boil potatoes

Saute onion in oil for 5-7 min. Add garlic and zest for 3 min. Add stock and boil/simmer for 10 min. Add fish and simmer until opaque

Put potatoes in bowl, will slotted spoon, transfer fish to bowls. Add greens and lime juice to broth until wilted. Season and pour into bowls.
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  1. Amen to that. I understand what you're saying about the 'man he might have been'. It's devastating at first when they're not in the position that we so badly want them to be in, but then it just reaches a point where it's uncomfortable but bearable. I'm here from my second ICLW- that recipe looks absolutely yum, and that's saying something, considering I've never tried spinach.

    ICLW hugs and best wishes to you,


  2. my father was NOT the man i wished he was for most of my life. he was an alcoholic, & a difficult person in the best of times. since becoming sober almost 4 years ago, i've watched him grow into a man i am proud to call my dad. i consider it one of the greatest gifts in my life to have an opportunity to watch him be the man with my children that i wish he could have been for my brother & me. ((hugs)) to you, & it is clear from the way you speak of your father, that while he may not have been a stereotypical american dad, that there is love & respect there. i'm sure he'd be proud to see who you've become.

  3. Blame FB for the brevity here: LIKE.

  4. I seem to have a less loving relationship with my father, but he's mine. While you were explaining your other male mentors in your life, I thought about the others who affected me. I had never really done that before, but I'm glad I did, there were others who helped me become who I am, and whether I like it or not, my father still played a huge role in who I've become. The soup sounds delicious.

  5. There was a Father's Day... AHHHHHHHHHHH! I feel attacked by the days. I hope you're enjoying the moments at home with your kiddos and I can't wait for your next venture whatever it might be...(please be delicious, please be delicious).

  6. What a great post. It really made me think about all the influences in my life.

    ICLW #10

  7. I think seeing parents have the opportunity to be grandparents is sometimes see the parents they might have been...if they were more emotionally aware, less stressed, etc. Not always, but sometimes. And, in a way, it is an opportunity to see things that might have happened when we were young children that we can't remember. I read that NYT article as well...and certainly as our definitions of family change, so should our celebrations of them. (Runningmama More Room in my Heart)

  8. I'm grateful every day for my father. He's a rock and I will forever look to him for guidance and support. I remember watching my uncle and my cousin (not his child) hold one another at my cousin's funeral (his child). My cousin had lost her dad 10 years earlier, and all I could think while I watched them together was "Dads without daughters and daughters without Dads". It broke my heart into a million pieces.


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