Why a father’s tough love is the harder job

Jim Blasingame

As the father of an adult daughter and son, plus the grandfather of four knucklehead boys (Hurricane, Tornado, Crash, and Train Wreck), I’ve learned some things about love. 

All the hours logged as Dad and Poppy have often caused me to contemplate how different are the roles of mother and father, especially in the overt demonstration of parental love. It’s fascinating how the manifestation of this love differs between mother and father – biologically, emotionally, and experientially. 

A mother’s love, at once sweet and fierce, is observed in almost all animals, not just humans. No doubt you’ve heard this simile: “… as sweet as a mother’s love,” and this warning: “Never get between a momma bear and her cub.” I’ve witnessed and have been the happy recipient of this kind of love, and there truly is no other force like it in nature

A human father’s love, on the other hand, is more often associated with unfortunate references, like “tough” and “discipline.” Here’s a warning no one has ever heard: “Just wait ’till your mother gets home!” As a teenager, my dad once – and only once – apologized to me when he thought his demonstration of paternal love might have seemed “hard-boiled.” It did.

Consequently, it has troubled me that there are no corresponding sweet references to a father’s love. Could this be why Father’s Day is not quite as big a deal as Mother’s Day? Just saying …

Mothers occupy the pinnacle of parental love – with complete justification. And not to take anything away from them, but let’s be honest: Since a mother’s sweet love is as primal as the miracle of birth – it’s their first nature – they don’t have to work too hard to deliver it. But there is a uniqueness about a father’s love that deserves a better rap, for two reasons:

1. Unlike a mother’s sweet love, a father’s tough love does not exist outside of homo sapiens.  

2. When a father’s parental toughness is required, especially when applied to an indignant recipient (read: teenager), it requires a love that is at once courageous and patient. Courageous enough to endure a likely negative response, and patient enough to be willing to defer gratification – sometimes for years – for having dispensed that lesson.

No one is more keenly aware of the distinction between the application of these two demonstrations of love than a single parent (especially a single mom), where both kinds are required of the same person, perhaps within minutes.

Mothers, please forgive any paternal bias you may detect, but here is my conclusion about parental love: The only force in the universe that comes close to a mother’s sweet/fierce love is a father’s tough/courageous love. But the latter is the harder job, and the return on investment almost always takes longer.

Write this on a rock … Happy Father’s Day, Dads. You’ve earned it.

Jim Blasingame is the author of The 3rd Ingredient, the Journey of Analog Ethics into the World of Digital Fear and Greed.

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