The following was syndicated from The Huffington Post as a part of ‘The Daddy Diaries’ for The Fatherly Forum, a community of parents and influencers with insights about work, family, and life. If you’d like to join the Forum, drop us a line at [email protected].
I have been reflecting on which holiday is my favorite, and I realized that hands down, it’s Father’s Day. I have only had one so far, and it was awesome. In years gone by, I never gave much thought to Father’s Day. I appreciate my own father, who is a fantastic human being, but still, the holiday was mainly an excuse to eat bagels and lox — an occasion for anxiously wondering what kind of gift I could get him. A shirt? A watch? Having recently experienced my first Father’s Day, I learned something surprising about what men really need on this holiday.
As fathers, we have a weird biological imperative to provide. Something is hardwired into our caveman brains — analogous to the nurturing impulse that most women feel when they have a baby. It fills us with a sudden impulse to go out and gather berries, or club a wildebeest.
From the day we become fathers, we stop sleeping in and instead wake up in a panic, run outside and drag something home to eat. If we are super dads, we might even get a strange urge to patch that leaky roof on our cave, which never seemed to matter that much when it was just a place for a bunch of hairy dudes to hang out.
We do these things not because our wives nag us, though they do, nor because we should provide for our family, we do them because of some primordial impulse to take care of our young. Perhaps, as Richard Dawkins suggested in his book The Selfish Gene, we aren’t even making the choice — it’s something in our DNA that takes over, making sure we do whatever possible to ensure that our gene pool replicates and survives.
From the day we become fathers, we stop sleeping in and instead wake up in a panic, run outside and drag something home to eat.
Whatever the case, most men who become fathers feel an urgent desire to earn enough money to buy diapers and food. It’s not that I didn’t care about earning a living before Lev arrived, but now there is a primal intensity, a sense that this is my crucial responsibility. It’s like a bonfire has been set inside my heart, and it causes me to run out into the streets, and stalk the aisles of Trader Joe’s, eyes wild, fangs and claws blazing. There is now a feral urgency about my food-shopping missions. I may look more like Jack Black as I search for tangerines, but I feel like Hugh Jackman as the Wolverine.
When a man is on a vital mission, he doesn’t feel any self-consciousness. Whether we’re stalking Osama Bin Laden as part of Seal Team 6, or looking for organic butt wipes at Duane Reade, we go about the task with grim determination, and do-or-die attitude. We aren’t looking for thanks. We’re just doing our job.
Which is why I was surprised by how much hearing the words “Thank you,” meant to me on my first Father’s Day. I hadn’t been expecting the expression of gratitude, nor my emotional reaction. I now realize how much that sense of being acknowledged and appreciated had been missing. It’s not that we fathers need a ticker tape parade down Fifth Avenue, or a new tie, but when you give us those things, as much as we’re ashamed to admit it, we really appreciate being appreciated.
It’s not that being a father is anything valiant. It’s that, from a purely biological point of view, we have imbued the ordinary task of running out to CVS for diapers with some insane combination of heroism and hormones. Our testosterone has been tested. The hypothalamus gland — which produces a rush of adrenalin during fight, f–k or flee situations — has been working overtime for the last 7 months. It’s like a fire hydrant was left open in the back of your skull, gushing oxytocin and serotonin and Lord knows what other chemicals down your spine. You haven’t slept or shaved for weeks. You vision is blurry. Your hands are shaking. Did she say “Baby’s Best organic soy GMO-free baby formula?” or “Earth’s Finest non-dairy gluten-free baby formula?” It’s not even 7:00 AM, and you’re tired. But dammit, you’re going to get this formula and bring it home like a freshly killed elk strapped across your shoulders, even though, wait—how could this crap possibly be $37?
And then you wake up on Father’s Day, and there among a pile of gifts you see a note:
“To the most gentle, strong, brave, wise man I know. Since Lev arrived, I have witnessed your heart explode with more joy than either of us could imagine. I am in complete awe, watching you tenderly, feed, change, bathe, and dress this little man who trusts and adores your every move. You went from being the man I love to the father of our wonderful child. I am grateful and excited to be experiencing this journey with you. Happy Father’s Day. I love you.”
At first, I wasn’t sure who the note was from. Could have been Michelle, or Lev. It would have been weird if Lev referred to himself in the third person, but still … that handwriting … I couldn’t be sure. So I asked them both and Lev didn’t answer. So that left Michelle as the probable writer.
But even if it was from Michelle, the last letter “O” in the phrase “I love you” at the end of the letter was a little hard to read. It was possible it said “I love Yu,” in which case, the entire note might have been written to Mrs. Yu, the Chinese lady, who lives on the floor below my apartment. It was hard to be sure. Mail often gets mis-delivered.
Even though I was probably fooling myself, I pretended the note was to me, and dammit, it felt good to be appreciated.
So enjoy your next Father’s Day.
And Mrs. Yu, I have a letter for you.
Dimitri Ehrlich is a multi-platinum selling songwriter and the author of 2 books. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Rolling Stone, Spin, and Interview Magazine, where he served as music editor for many years.
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