I couldn’t have been older than seven when I came up with quite the one-liner. A real zinger. One day, I approached my parents and asked them something along the lines of “Why is there a Father’s Day and a Mother’s Day, but no Kid’s Day?” Straight-faced, my mom replied: “Every day is Kid’s Day.”
My mom’s dunking on my attempt at wit certainly was devastating — but, more important, it was true. It can be all too easy to take our parents for granted. They make countless and profound sacrifices for their children. And, as Clare Morell explained in a piece on the home page today, the sacrifices made by parents are entirely necessary for the flourishing of children.
Yet it feels as though we devote too much time to portraying fatherhood — and parenthood more broadly — as a duty or as if it’s simply a necessity. It certainly is necessary. But, as a son who hopes to eventually be a father, I’d like to think that it’s also wonderful.
If you ask any parent, they’ll tell you that raising children is incredibly difficult. Reduced free time, increased expenses, rebel teens, and so on. But that doesn’t mean they regret having children. Just because something can be daunting doesn’t mean that it’s bad. Careers are also stressful. Like parenting, work can be a major source of personal strife. Yet people still rank family and work as the two things that give them the most meaning.
This year, less than a week before Mother’s Day, the New York Times published a strange article from Mary Katharine Tramontana, portraying the increasing trend of men and women choosing to live childless as a victory for happiness and feminism. Tramontana pointed to various surveys, arguing that the burdens imposed by children limit adults’ freedom to pursue their desires. Yet in her piece, she omitted significant data. In a massive study covering 1.5 million Swedes, researchers discovered that the suicide rate was 58 percent lower among parents with one child and 70 percent lower in parents with two or more children compared to childless individuals, even after controlling for conflating variables.
This level of difference shouldn’t come as a surprise. Family, particularly children, helps to ground you. Through children, individuals combat their own finitude and become less temporal. Living for more than just ourselves offers a bit of insurance for when things bring us down. Even if you’re destroyed, you still have your kids.
The easiest way to bring people out of themselves is through family. Family members — particularly the young ones who can’t help themselves — give us something to devote ourselves to. This benefit can be reaped by all members of an extended family, but the main benefactors are those who steer their children through all the stepstones of life. Watching one’s child graduate high school or get married (or so I’ve been told) is one of the happiest moments in a parent’s life. Let’s be honest, generally speaking, these aren’t particularly rare achievements. Today, over 90 percent of Americans now have a high-school diploma, and getting married — which, of course, is different from staying married — only really takes a government document.
Yet the pride parents feel during these moments is through the roof. And rightfully so. Who cares if almost everyone can do it or does it? As the old saying goes: It takes a village. Every child entering into “adulthood” upon graduation, or every young couple making a life-long commitment to one another, symbolizes the culmination of the efforts of grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, and, most important, parents. That’s what actually makes the graduation and bridal gowns so special. Kids like to think that the achievement is their own. Of course, they played a significant role. But we ought to acknowledge and thank more than just ourselves. We wouldn’t be who we are today without our families, without our guardians.
Good job, all you dads. Happy Father’s Day.