Mary Poppins will always be near the top of my favorites. In recent years, the characters and interactions have taken on new meaning and I’ve been surprised at just how much I relate to George Banks. He is rough around the edges (me) and a little chauvinistic (not me) but, whether he holds it well or bears it shakily, he carries the weight of fatherhood. In what has become one of my favorite scenes in any film, Bert (Dick Van Dyke) shares a profound bit of truth with the children and speaks to the heart of a father.
Jane: Oh, Bert, we’re so frightened.
Bert: Now, now, don’t take on so. Bert will take care of you. Like I was your father. Now, who’s after you?
Jane: Father is.
Michael: He brought us to see his bank.
Jane: I don’t know what we did, but it must have been something dreadful.
Michael: He sent the police after us, and the army, and everything.
Jane: Michael, don’t exaggerate.
Bert: Well now, there must be some mistake. Your dad’s a fine gentleman and he loves you.
Jane: I don’t think so. You should have seen the look on his face.
Michael: He doesn’t like us at all.
Bert: Well now, that don’t seem likely, does it?
Jane: It’s true.
Bert: Let’s sit down. You know, begging your pardon, but the one my heart goes out to is your father. There he is, in that cold heartless bank day after day, hammed in by mounds of cold heartless money. I don’t like to see any living thing caged up.
Jane: Father in a cage?
Bert: They makes cages of all sizes and shapes, you know. Bank-shaped, some of them, carpets and all.
Jane: Father’s not in trouble. We are.
Bert: Oh. Sure about that, are you? Look at it this way. You’ve got your mother to look after you and Mary Poppins and Constable Jones and me. Who looks after your father? Tell me that. When something terrible happens, what does he do? Fends for himself, he does. Who does he tell about it? No one. Don’t blab his troubles at home. He just pushes on at his job, uncomplaining and alone and silent.
Michael: He’s not very silent.
Jane: Michael, be quiet. Bert, do you think father really needs our help?
Bert: Well, it’s not my place to say. I only observe that a father can always do with a bit of help.
It is almost taboo in our culture for a man to even mention how difficult it can be to juggle all of his responsibilities. There is a great deal of silence surrounding a very real truth here and it is that modern fatherhood, a large part of the time, feels like a man bracing for the weight while a thousand strangers and a dozen loved ones take turns stacking another ten pounds on his quivering shoulders. Very little is ever said about it but the young Western father is immersed in stresses and pressures. He is encircled by the responsibilities and there is a constant weight he carries. If he wants to be engaged in all aspects of his life…if he wants to “man up” (as the ridiculously cavalier saying goes), the price of admission is a sore back and an ever increasing stack on his broad shoulders. Don’t misunderstand me, Mom’s job is very difficult as well. But that doesn’t negate the fact, or reduce in any way, the fundamental struggle of the father. From a societal perspective, whenever there are negative sociological trends, the first explanation (whether true or not) is always a lack of fathers in the home. In our justice system, mom gets preferential treatment every single time and the father is relegated to the margins as if the State deems dad a less suitable parent simply because of his gender. The stay at home dad, even today, bears an enormous weight as he fights for legitimacy from a culture that still hasn’t gotten used to the idea. Regardless of his specific situation, there is a heavy weight every engaged father bears.
Every single measurable marker signals a declining trend in the overall health and well-being of this specific demographic. Statistically, more and more fathers are feeling the strain from the weight. The two most eye-popping trends are in the large scale abuse of prescription opiates and the staggering suicide rates among our demographic. There are a thousand different variables that feed into these trends. But, the undeniable reality across the board is that men in the years mostly associated with fathering are experiencing vast increases in various societal pressures. He lives and operates under a great weight.
The good news is that the father was made and designed to specifically withstand this pressure and to stand up under the weight of it. But, he was never designed to do it alone. He is not a lone wolf. He is not an island. He is not the rugged individual. A father needs help. There are relationships he must foster and grow that will serve as pillars to brace him as he bears the weight of fatherhood.
Partner – Perhaps one of the most valuable byproducts of the committed covenant relationship for a dad is the constant unwavering support of his partner day after day. When I say “support”, I do not mean agreement. I am describing the very practical consistent aid in load bearing tasks. My wife, the mother of these little She-Gables, not only mothers our daughters effectively, she also aids me in my fathering of them. There are days when I am tired or I’ve had just a crappy day at work and I am…we’ll say “grumpy”. In those moments, my partner is quick to lovingly address, in language and tone that she knows I will most likely accept, that shortfall and how my grumpiness could affect my daughters. In very real ways, as I am bearing the weight of fatherhood, she upholds my arms, corrects my form, and eases the burden. She is a great gift.
Friends – The vast majority of dads have a grand total of zero actual deep friends. Look man, if your “friend” is not involved in your life enough to recognize when you’re being an idiot, and he cannot or will not step in and help you correct those things causing your idiotness, then brother, you have a drinking buddy. You do not have a friend. That previous statement should be staggering to you. You are friendless. Most of us don’t take the time to develop deep friendships with other dads because we either don’t know how, we don’t see the value in it, or we think we have it all figured out. We are wrong and we only hurt ourselves. Dads who have even one solid deep friend are able to withstand far more than the lone wolf dad. One good friend can mean the difference between being a good father and being a statistic. Get after it. Press in to other dads. Get involved in their lives. We cannot afford to be friendless.
Mentors – Every year of fatherhood that goes by, I am amazed at how much smarter I am at the end of the year than I was at the beginning. In fact, by the time my children leave my house, I’ll be the world’s most knowledgeable dad. (I’m going to put that on a coffee cup.) Good engaged fathers are learning new things every single day. They can’t help it. So, why on earth would we not want to tap into such an abundant resource? A good mentor, in all aspects of life but especially with regard to fathering, can help guide you toward decisions and behaviors that will bear fruit in your children and steer you away from some of the more damaging ones. Learning from him will lighten the weight of fatherhood because he can advise and keep you out of situations that could cause crushing heaviness. Find him. Boldly tell him you want him to mentor you. Then, give him authority in your life. Actually listen to him.
Dad, you were made to stand up under this weight but not by yourself. Build your support. You’ll be great but “a father can always do with a bit of help”.