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Three Fathers Walk Into a Bar...
Father's Day is FRAUGHT...for a whole handful of reasons, both right and wrong.
I’ve never liked strip clubs.
Partially because as a stage performer I always identified with the stage performers. That, and I used to be a bouncer for strippers, shadowing them while instructing the men whose laps were being grinded on that they would, and should, be sitting on their hands. Were they to choose to do anything else with their hands, it was much more than clear that my MagLite wasn’t just there to highlight the nudity that they had come to see.
Subtext: getting knocked out at a strip club for grabbing a woman who just happened to be naked and working is no way to end your day.
I also believe that strip clubs bred a certain kind of impotency since men who really wanted to engage in the commercial side of sex work would just call an escort. So it was weirdly performative and outside of getting kicked out of one for not being able to afford a $10 plastic cup of beer at some 42nd Street hole when I was 15, I’ve not been back more than once. Unless I was working. Or dating someone who worked there.
That didn’t change the fact that a guy I knew was having his bachelor party there. It just seemed to make sense. Hire one woman to show up, or take him to a place where there were dozens of women, economies of scale seemed to suggest the latter and so the latter it was.
Rob was in a jolly mood, dedicated to the prospect of being wed and it was clear that the party was not for him, but his friends. The hooting and hollering? Not him, but his friends. And on finally deciding to leave, one of the other married guests asked Rob if he knew where Rob’s father was as he wanted to wish the old man a good night.
Rob nodded in the direction of the stage and the pole on that stage.
“There he is.”
And there he was too. On his back. With a $20 bill rolled up and in his mouth like a straw while a woman lowered her vagina on to the protruding 20. Rob shrugged, his friend left, and his father, presumably, lost his $20.
But Tony Montana said it best: “It’s hard to be a mang [sic].” Which is why today’s Father’s Day, and indeed, every Father’s Day, is just fraught, caught as it is with shifting conceptions of manhood, for both the fathers that have come before us, as well as the fathers some of us have become.
[W]hile it might sound great seeing your father zooted out of his mind on coke after a night of disco dancing while he waves a copy of New York Magazine at you extolling the virtues of either/both “bisexuality chic” or “porno chic”, the reality left some men of this generation feeling…unmoored.
You see after a heavy dose of ‘60’s realpolitik, and a generalized discontent with the damaged and withholding fathers of a previous generation — damaged and withholding largely on account of there being no words for whatever the hell happened to them in WW2, Korea or Vietnam — men had started to…change.
Crying was OK (and it is) and being less than rigid was seen as a virtue. Of course, because we’re humans, we ruin everything. So absence of rigidity led to ‘70’s excess and while it might sound great seeing your father zooted out of his mind on coke after a night of disco dancing while he waves a copy of New York Magazine at you extolling the virtues of either/both “bisexuality chic” or “porno chic”, the reality left some men of this generation feeling…unmoored.
Which is why when the end of the ‘80s hit you had the whole Iron John thing also hit. Iron John: A Book About Men, coming as it did after AIDS, seemed to be all Freudian housekeeping and encouraged men, non-ironically, to hang out in the woods with other men to cry about their fathers and hug. Elements of this you can still find in both the Men’s Rights Activism movement, as well as the Incel movement.
And filagrees of it have found their way into Macho Christianity, touchstone movies like Fight Club, Joe Rogan and the other cancel culture warriors, Proud Boys and the list goes on. Men parented by bad/absent/weak fathers who then become bad/absent/weak men and maybe worse fathers.
It should be known that I, a father of four, am not holding myself exempt here either. While I’ve tried to explain to my kids that they are California kids raised by a New York father (to explain my churlishness and “occasional” rudeness…their words, not mine), this doesn’t change the fact that the ‘60s left me with something too. Call it a mania for a certain type of order. And discipline.
“The BIG secret of EUGENE ROBINSON is….” a woman once screamed at me down a staircase as I left her house, “…that you’re this WILD and CRAZY GUY. But you’re one of the MOST CONTROLLED PEOPLE I KNOW!” Her living room was full of speed freaks so I could live with this.
But if you’ve ever read Matt Groening’s Life in Hell he did a curious paternal takedown in the “16 Types of Dads” and sure enough I am there as the “Great Expectations Dad”. His nicknames were The Lecturer, The Utilitarian, The Old Manipulator. Kind of like if you try imagining Ian MacKaye as a father (which he is now) and maybe you’re getting close.
Doing better than the previous generation though is the goal and since my own father was Cold Dad, aka The Stonewall, The Withholder, Mr. Freeze, Ignore-o-Matic, I figure I am ahead of the game.
Though there’s also this: “My father is dead.” One of the toughest women I know told me, and her eyes welled up with tears. Which was expected. But what wasn’t expected were the tears for this father who, she had said, had routinely molested her during bath time when she was growing up.
So for all of you fathers who are worried that no one needs you, you’re both right and wrong: they do need you…to not fuck up, keep your mouth shut, and to be there when stuff gets crucial…they also don’t need you…
In fact every woman I know who was molested by a now-dead father has mourned their father’s passing…in their own ways. By way of forgiving these men and thereby gaining closure, or…something. In fact, almost every woman I know who was molested by a still-living father has reconciled with these monsters in moments that have absolutely baffled me.
Baffled, yeah, but a light was suddenly shining on what was needed to be a good father and like Michael Corleone once said, that is simply this: “nothing.” Very specifically your nothing is very likely to be a lot less injurious than your something. Don’t molest your kids, don’t abandon them, don’t beat them (or their mother), don’t belittle them and you’re set. Too much pressure? That’s ok too since even bad fathers seem to have a certain amount of cachet existing as they do on the shadowy periphery of figurehead-dom.
However, the old model still holds: strong, silent, and often the court of last resort and while many of us wished we had fathers like Bill Bixby (See: The Courtship of Eddie’s Father), and indeed my stepfather, my mother’s second husband for 13 years, and who I still call “my stepfather” (though my mother has been remarried to a great guy for the past 30 plus years), was very much like this, he could have been half of that and I would have been happy.
So for all of you fathers who are worried that no one needs you, you’re both right and wrong: they do need you…to not fuck up, keep your mouth shut, and to be there when stuff gets crucial. At the bare minimum. They also don’t need you and so you may go 20 years without getting the call but when the call comes in? You must be ready. This is not just the essence of modern and effective fatherhood but it’s also the essence of modern and effective manhood.
We are figureheads, and this is OK.
Even if sometimes you might want hugs, which they will either give you or not, you should not begrudge them their failure to understand since no matter what kind of rebop you heard in the ‘60s, the head that holds the crown will always find it heavy.
So if you really want hugs? Get a dog. Or maybe find some other fathers who will, unvoiced, help hold the weight. But don’t sad face the tie, Old Spice cologne, or slippers you got today. You were probably lucky to get that.
Besides, what are you anyway…a kid?!? Anyways…now…beat it.
And, oh yeah, to the ones that deserve to be happy: HAPPY FATHER’S DAY!