As Father’s Day approaches, the mailbox has been filling with magazines paying homage to dads. Often they are filled with stories of children discovering the truth about the father they thought they knew (or never knew — pathos!) or dads reflecting on the wonder of childhood as they see themselves reflected in their children’s eyes.
But as I look at the stack of periodicals in front of me, I’m struck by something else. While they all celebrate family and fatherhood, they each have their own spin based on the particular audience they’re targeting. I realize that I know these different types of dads and it may be a way to take a look at your parenting style and find out just what kind of journey you’re taking your kids on. Of course, every dad is a mix of different styles of fatherhood, but in certain cases one or more of those styles takes precedence and you can proudly call yourself a “_____” Dad. In the interest of finding out where you might fall on the dad spectrum I’ve compiled this handy test.
Men’s magazines will always be at the vanguard on Father’s Day and there’s no shortage of gadget-laden gift guides available for your shopping pleasure. However, when the latest issue of Esquire magazine showed up, I cowered at the banner headline “HOW TO BE A MAN — The Fatherhood Edition” floating over Bruce Willis’ manly bald head. As you might expect from Esquire, the issue is dripping with stories about Manly Men beating mountain lions off their children with a pocket knife.
Yes, it’s really in there, along with the father who chased down an armed bank robber and beat the crap out of him because he threatened the man’s son — and it doesn’t stop there. There’s advice on how to drink with your (grown-up) daughter along with valuable tidbits on teaching your kids the basics of gambling or how to sharpen your own knives.
To be fair to Esquire, they take the broad view of Manhood and so the Manly Dad category can actually encompass much of what’s to come. In light of that, if you see yourself as a Manly Dad, go ahead and take some bonus points. You would have taken them anyway.
Because that’s the kind of Manly Man you are.
When I read Wired magazine’s Father’s Day article, something in it immediately resonated with me. Perhaps it was the deep soul-searching I did to figure out the best order to show Star Wars to my kids or because I immersed them in comic books because once upon a time they were my obsession. While I like to consider myself an eclectic father, having been president of the astronomy club and a reformed science fiction and comic book nerd I think there’s no question that one type rises to the top for me.
Happily, like the Manly Dad, I think that the Geek Dad can encompass a wide range of geek behaviors, like building Rube Goldberg devices (see also, tree houses, go karts, model cars, planes, boats, etc.) or dressing up like a superhero and taking your kid to ComicCon. Ultimately I think the Geek Dad is synonymous with Fun Dad because a Geek Dad is still in touch with what he enjoyed in his youth and he’s happy to share that with his kids. So I’m tempted (and biased) to give Geek Dad some bonus points as well. Although not as many as Manly Dad, whom I see looking at me sternly as he wipes cougar blood from the blade of his pocket knife.
I used to subscribe to Outside magazine and would probably put outdoorsy-ness second on my personal list of Dad qualities, although I think the idea resonates with me more than the reality. My son is now a Boy Scout, and I like to live vicariously through his affiliation, liking the idea of earning merit badges for making a fire by rubbing two sticks together or heroically leading a lost group of hikers back to safety thanks to my superior knowledge of the wilderness.
But then I look at a friend of ours who is an actual Outdoors Dad and I realize that my commitment pales in comparison.
This is a father who has gear for every conceivable outdoor activity. A short list: white water kayaking (hard shell and inflatable, dry suits, helmets, paddles, dry bags and floatation devices, etc.), windsurfing (boards, sails, wet suits, etc.), skiing (ski and snowboard), cycling — I could go on but you get the idea. Not only does he have all this equipment but he actually uses it!
To my credit, I’ve been out on a couple of kayak trips with him, he took our son windsurfing, and we accompanied their family on a ski trip during which I broke my leg (it’s not his fault I tripped over a Manly Dad stabbing a polar bear with a toothpick), but I can only claim the role of enthusiastic amateur. If you have a garage full of equipment from even just one outdoor activity and you actually use it, then take your points and I’ll see you out on the trail.
5 points (because life is its own reward)
I follow a number of sports, but when it comes to the traditional American pastimes I’m afraid I have a hard time generating a lot of enthusiasm. Fortunately for me soccer is growing in popularity, but bicycle racing is still a little too Continental for sharing with the crowd at the corner bar. Fencing is right out.
I admit it: I’m not the kind of dad who knows that if you play soccer in the fall you sign up for it in the spring. We do have a neighbor, however, who has three boys and whether by necessity or design he embodies for me the idea of the Sporty Dad. During Little League season, I see the boys loading into the Suburban and his eldest son looks like Alex Rodriguez on the first day of spring training with his gear bag and his Oakleys. When I say hello to him I fully expect him to wave me off saying, “No autographs!” It’s a little intimidating, but knowing that children need fresh air and sunshine I make sure my son gets his exercise riding his unicycle around the neighborhood. He may not have the look of a future hall-of-famer but I take secret pleasure in the sometimes jealous glances he gets from kids playing organized sports and wonder if they’re thinking of what it would be like to run away and join the circus.
5 points (until we get Major League Fencing)
I could keep going, but I’ve paused to look into the eyes of my children and I find myself drawn into a reverie, dreaming about my youth, long sunny summer afternoons tromping through the woods or splashing across a creek. Hiking up to the 7-11 for a Slurpee and some comic books, or building a bike ramp and setting it on fire so I could cheat death like Evel Knievel.
OK, maybe not that last part, but I see that whatever kind of Dad I am I need to reconnect with who I was when I was my kids’ ages. I need to find those things I enjoyed as a child and share those experiences. In part to help them grow, in part to pass on the way I see the world, but mostly just to spend time with them and have fun.