I’ve never been totally sold on the concept of Father’s Day. For one thing, it was officially declared a national holiday by Richard Nixon, so it might not even be legal. But my main problem is that I’m not sure we fathers deserve it. I believe — at risk of being arrested by the Gender Neutrality Police — that fathers in general do not have the same level of parenting skills as mothers.
I base this statement on many years of observing myself and various guys I know attempting to parent. Here are a few of the parental skills I have concluded that women, in general, are better at than men:
▪ Dressing and feeding the children.
▪ Remembering the birthdates of the children.
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▪ Remembering the names of the children.
▪ Remembering the total quantity of children and therefore being less likely to leave one of them behind at the turnpike service plaza.
Don’t get me wrong: I believe there are many things that men are better at than women. Farting is only one example. But when it comes to taking care of children, I think women are far superior.
That’s why Mother’s Day is such a huge deal. The message of Mother’s Day is “Mothers are amazingly good at mothering! They deserve a special day!” Whereas the message of Father’s Day is: “We’re only doing this because we have Mother’s Day.”
Despite these reservations, I enjoy Father’s Day. It’s a time when I pause to reflect on the joy that has come into my life thanks to my two wonderful children, whose names escape me.
I am kidding, of course. My children’s names — I know this by heart, although their birthdays are another matter — are Rob and Sophie, and they both have given me many special, memorable moments. I’m going to recount one of those moments here, because it happens to involve this very newspaper, the Miami Herald.
This happened on a Thursday in April 1988, when Rob was 7. We were getting ready to go to Key West for a long weekend, and Rob was very excited about that, because I always rented a motorbike down there and the two of us — me driving and Rob in back — would ride around the island for hours. Rob loved that.
We were just about to leave for the Keys when I got a phone call from my editors at the Herald’s Tropic Magazine, Gene Weingarten and Tom Shroder. They told me I had to come into the Herald right away for an important meeting. I said I couldn’t make it, because (a) I was going to Key West, and (b) I have never been able to reconcile the concept of “important” with the concept of “meeting.”
But Gene and Tom insisted that I had to attend this meeting, on orders of Herald Editor Janet Chusmir. So I reluctantly told Rob we had to go to the Herald first for this stupid meeting, and then we’d go to Key West.
The “meeting” turned out to be the announcement of the Pulitzer Prizes. The Herald had won two: The prize for feature photography went to Michel duCille, and the prize for commentary went to me. The plan was for it to be a surprise, and for me it totally was. I honestly did not expect to win a Pulitzer Prize. I still worry that some day the Pulitzer board will realize they screwed up and demand it back.
When I got to the Herald, the newsroom was packed with people, most of them in on the surprise. I stood cluelessly in the crowd with Rob, awaiting the announcement. About a minute before it came, an editor who apparently had not been let in on the secret came over, shook my hand, and said “Congratulations.”
At that moment, I realized two things, one good and one bad. The good one was, I was going to win a Pulitzer Prize. The bad one was, Rob was going to be very disappointed, because with all the fuss that was about to erupt, we wouldn’t be able to go to Key West.
I looked down at Rob and said, “Rob, I’m really sorry, but we’re not going to Key West.”
He looked devastated. He had so been looking forward to that trip, and now it was gone. I felt awful. I knew at that moment that I had to do something, as a father, to ease my son’s pain.
“Listen,” I said. “I’ll buy you a Nintendo.” This was a video-game system that Rob desperately wanted.
“Really?” he said.
“Yes,” I said.
Two things happened then: First, Rob, elated by the Nintendo news, jumped into my arms and gave me a huge hug. Second, Janet Chusmir, reading the Associated Press bulletin, announced that I had won a Pulitzer Prize.
The front page of the next day’s Miami Herald had a story headlined “Two staffers win Pulitzer Prizes.” With it were two photos. One was of Michel duCille being congratulated by his colleagues. The other was of me and Rob. I’m beaming; he has his arms wrapped around my neck and looks absolutely ecstatic. Everyone I knew who saw that picture told me basically the same thing: “It was great to see how happy Rob was that you won a Pulitzer Prize!” When in fact Rob had no idea what a Pulitzer Prize was.
That moment, that memory, remains a high point of my life as a father. And I’ve been lucky enough to have had many good fatherhood moments since, with Rob and his sister Sophie. To my mind, that’s what being a parent comes down to: moments with your kids, one after another, coming and going faster and faster as they grow up. The trick is learning to recognize the good moments when they’re happening, so you can savor them. Because in life you get only so many.
I recently got to savor a pretty good one. It happened two months ago, when the 2015 Pulitzers were announced. The Wall Street Journal won one for investigative journalism, for a series on Medicare fraud. The series was done by a team of reporters, one of whom is a former video-game-obsessed first-grader named Rob Barry, now a grown man of 34 with a son of his own. Rob’s journalism specialty is analyzing databases, detecting patterns and trends. He does a lot of work with computers. I like to think the Nintendo game helped.
Anyway, to all my fellow dads out there: Have a happy Father’s Day. We might not deserve it, but let’s enjoy it. Let’s praise whatever meals we are fed; let’s beam happily at whatever gifts our kids give us; and above all let’s remember that the real gift is getting to spend these moments with them.
And then — because frankly we are not as good at these things as the mothers are — let’s treat ourselves to a nap.