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Every Friday my syndicated column appears in newspapers around Canada. Here’s this week’s, on fathers. It becomes hard, after seven years, to keep thinking up new things to say about holidays!:

A century ago, Sigmund Freud posited that women suffered from an envy of a certain part of male anatomy. Personally, I think Freud may have had an inflated sense of the importance of this body part, because I have never entertained even a fleeting thought of possessing such a thing.

I can understand women in Freud’s day, though, eschewing their own sex in favour of the other, since women back then couldn’t pursue their dreams very easily. But today women are no longer denigrated in the career sphere; men, on the other hand, are frequently denigrated in the domestic sphere. They’re the brunt of all kinds of jokes about their ineptitude when it comes to relationships. Fifty years ago the popular image of a dad was Ward Cleaver. Today it’s Homer Simpson. We praise and revere mothers; we laugh at dads. The tables have turned.

Think about it: on Mother’s Day, we wrap ourselves inside out trying to say thank you to mom. In fact, Mother’s Day, not Christmas, is the day when the long distance lines buzz the most. Of course, many dads have failed miserably at their parenting role. For every woman raising a child alone there is a man who has not lived up to his responsibilities.

But by trying to break the stigma of single parenting, we’ve also inadvertently said that fatherhood doesn’t matter. We don’t want any single mom to feel badly, or any child to feel like they’re missing something, so we loudly declare that children will be fine with a mom. They don’t need a Daddy; they just need someone to love them.

Forgive me, but I think that’s stupid. Children are programmed to need both parents, and those parents are not interchangeable. In general, psychologists tell us that children get their sense of love and security from their mothers, but they get their sense of identity and purpose from their fathers. It is the mother who nurtures, but it is the father who launches the child out of the nest.
That doesn’t mean that all children without dads will have identity complexes. I grew up without a dad, and I overcame. But I also know that my childhood lacked something. My children, who have both parents, are doing much better than I did at their age.

Recently my kids and I ventured to the Toronto Zoo, where we saw father-craving firsthand. A 10-year-old orang-utan kept swinging upside down, over his father’s head, so that he could periodically swat dad or pull his hair. The father responded by swatting back, but rarely by looking at his offspring. The mom would snuggle with him, but he still wanted the dad’s attention.

The mandrills did the same thing. The baby jumped on all the other mandrills, cuddled with mom, and bugged his siblings. But he would sneak up to dad, waiting to see how close he could get before dad would react. When he came within arm’s reach, the dad would jerk, and the baby would scamper away. He, too, wanted dad to acknowledge him. This father craving has been built in, even to animals.

It reminds me of children on a diving board, yelling, “Watch me, Dad!” We moms can love kids, and hug them, and affirm them, but they’ll still want dad.

This Father’s Day, let’s treat the dads who are active in our lives with the same respect and gratitude that we treat the moms. They aren’t just extra additions to the family; they’re central to the child’s well-being. So to all the dads out there who are watching soccer games, reading stories, helping with homework, and hugging a baby, thank you. You are needed, you are appreciated, and I wish you a wonderful day!

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