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Wednesday, June 7, 2000

WHEN EAST MARRIES WEST

Fathers just wanna be loved


The pressure builds. Feel it? I sure do. An annual tension that visits late each June and -- for a day at least -- smothers me with stress. The day? Why, the most anxious moment of the year -- Father's Day. What else?

The burden? Just who -- if anyone -- will remember.

Now perhaps you rank this about 9.8 on the Jerry Lewis Scale of Super-Silliness. And perhaps you are not a Dad.

In these modern days, married couples, international or not, are presumed to share family duties. This household dynamic of man-woman, mother-father, husband-wife always teeters in a ticklish balance. But the key word is "balance."

Yet, Father's Day (in my experience) pales before its Mother's Day rival like a Tinkertoy before the Great Pyramid of Giza. The latter day parades in with stage lights and fanfares. The former blips past like a falling star. You blink and you miss it.

Not that anyone begrudges mothers. Mothers deserve all the kudos they can get. My argument is that by and large, on that one day a year, they get them. Meanwhile, we bumbling Dads . . .

I have a friend whose kids commemorate Father's Day by giving him socks. One from each child, making a complete pair. Another friend always gets a pack of plastic razors. Each year he bubbles with the same feigned surprise.

"Oh boy! Razors!"

In my case, the only Father's Day when I have been truly wowed was my first. For on that day my wife presented me with a 3,000-gram gift, one she had kept wrapped up for nine months.

I confess I knew it was coming; the only question was the delivery date. That the bundle actually arrived on Father's Day made the occasion all the more memorable.

Then, with boy number two, my wife almost bull's-eyed Father's Day again! Hence, in our house the latter half of June has all the makings of a festive season. Two birthday parties hammered around the Day of the Dads.

We all know which event gets lost in the mix.

Sure, birthdays are special. Especially for kids. In fact, the entire kid calendar seems to pendulum back and forth between Christmas and the relevant birthday.

Even so qualified, Father's Day in our house fizzles. Not only is it dwarfed by the twin birthday towers, it also swoons before the aforementioned glitz of Mother's Day. Just listen to these sad comparisons:

On Mother's Day one or both of our boys have been known to yawn to the kitchen and bang together breakfast. True, the toast will look like an arson victim and the pancakes will boast lumps large enough to putt with, but if I were to lie in bed and wait for a similar meal on my day, I would never eat again.

Also on Mother's Day, our children will skip off to buy Mom a sushi plate for lunch or some fabulously fattening desert. Of course, they will then consume most of this themselves, but it's the thought that counts.

Meanwhile, no similar goodies are purchased for Dad, or if so, they have yet to survive the trip from the store.

Then the boys will present my wife with the all important gift. Sometimes this is just a single-stemmed flower. Or if they have more money it may be a CD of a song they like -- and will soon sneak off to their own room. Regardless, they would sooner forget to wear their pants than forget Mother's Day.

Father's Day often comes and passes like a lonesome ghost.

A ghost that still bumps about and makes as much racket as possible.

In the morning I mug hearty greetings and exercise my eyebrows all through breakfast, before chasing the boys with grins as they rush off to Sunday School or wherever. In the evening I then tap my fingers on the dinner table as if it were a snare drum. Waiting, waiting . . .

However, the day usually slips past. The boys clump away to their rooms, while Dad mopes alone at the table.

Oh . . . one year I did receive a handcrafted toolbox. For which I was deeply touched -- despite the fact I have no tools.

"Thanks, son," I sniffled.

"My teacher made me do it," he answered. Then he asked if he could keep the box to hold his sports cards.

"Something's odd," I whimper to my wife at bedtime. "How come the boys go berserk on your day, but hardly know mine exists?"

"Maybe," she winks, "they realize who feeds them. Or maybe you should have had daughters."

Or maybe we nine-to-five Dads are just doomed to lead subdued roles. Home, hearth and apple pie (or in our case onigiri) are images linked with motherhood. Even in the brave new sea of contemporary parenting -- Dad can be the keel, Dad can be the rudder, Dad can be the mast and Dad can be the bulkhead, but the anchor is always Mom.

"Poor guy," she whispers. "Would you like a gift from me?" I clutch my heart, recalling her other Father's Day gifts. "No," she teases. "Not another baby . . . " The light flicks off. Covers rustle. Lips meet. Then . . . comes a pounding at the door! "Hey! We forgot what day it was! Get out here! It's party time!" Now, isn't that the luck of a Dad? Happy Father's Day. You've earned it.



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