People share photos of their fathers for Father’s Day, and it’s hard to not feel like dads were different then: seeing the black-and-white photos of always handsome men, with wearier brows and more confident eyes than I’ve ever worn. Those old-time dads lived on scraps and fought in wars. When they brought home a refrigerator it was hard won; they saved for it instead of putting it on a credit card. They took nothing for granted. If they over-prized their immaculate lawns, it was because they knew that nobody is promised a square of grass to grow old tending.
Of course those men were more inclined to use the belt, to shut down a child with a stern word, to be uncompromising on expectations. They filled every room with cigarette smoke and called women girls. Maybe your dad was an exception.
The dads of my childhood were transitional dads. Some worked hard and saw war; some never tended a field or murdered strangers. Either one was called “man.” They formed a fast mythology about the old and the new; laughed at Archie Bunker’s malaprops and turned around to vote for Ronald Reagan. They lost their nervous energy and relaxed into the same overstuffed chairs. In the end it didn’t matter where you’d been, only where you were.
Now dads wear Star Wars T-shirts and try to be kind. We debate the existence of “men” on the Internet. We know our children are being sent into a future of acid oceans and over-carbonized air; we accommodate them with comforts and low expectations. Previous dads hoisted their children on their shoulders to watch the parade; now we hoist our children on our shoulder and become the parade. We Instagram ourselves into sepia, to see ourselves as unfailing as the men of the past.