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Getting Exactly What I Wanted for Father’s Day

Getting Exactly What I Wanted for Father’s Day

The author with his husband and their sons

My father’s birthday was June 17. As a result, his birthday sometimes fell on Father’s Day. Even when it did not, it was close enough so that the two observances were conflated into one. Father’s Day usually involved an Old Spice gift set and dinner out which, of course, my father paid for.

Growing up, my husband’s father would usually grill something on the barbeque for Father’s Day and the day often involved a trip to the local amusement park, followed by ice cream. According to my husband, his father usually received a tie or shirt for Father’s Day.

On our first date, when we were both living in Jerusalem, my husband and I talked about our desire to be parents. We often say that we needed children and our sons needed parents. The Jewish home we envisioned creating included children. But 18 years ago it was not that common for gay men to become parents. We had few role models and a hard time finding diaper bags designed for men.

So what happens on Father’s Day when two men raise children? My husband and I are not big fans of amusement parks but we do like ice cream! On our first Father’s Day as actual fathers, my husband and I, along with our two-month old son went out for brunch with some friends. Everyone made a fuss about the two men and their baby. When our boys were little, their teachers always made sure they made two gilded macaroni picture frames or two boxes made from ice cream sticks, one for each of us.

But for us, Father’s Day is not about the gifts. It is an opportunity to think about the type of boys, and ultimately men, we are raising. And to think, too, about what kind of fathers we continually strive to be.

Most important, we wanted to raise our sons to be good and kind. We wanted them to be feminists, like us. And we wanted to them to have an expansive idea of gender and gender roles. Purple could be their favorite color and they could play with dolls, if they wished.

When two men raise children together, no household task or role is determined by gender. My husband cooks because he is good at it. He does the grocery shopping because for some strange reason, he enjoys it. A friend once described me as a “nest-builder” which I guess is why I take care of our house. I pay the bills because I am more organized. Most important, we have shared equally in raising our children. What our sons see are two parents doing what they do, not as a result of their gender, but as a result of what they are good at. If and when they find themselves in relationships, I hope my sons will remember these lessons.

I decided to ask my sons what they thought about us as parents and what they learned from us about parenting. My 14-year-old, always the comic, wanted to know if this was a survey and how long this was going to take. He described us as strict parents, but he also said that was one of the ways he knew that we loved him.

My 18-year-old son described us as overprotective. I think that was his kind way of saying that he, too, thought we were strict. He said that as a parent he would be more lenient. But he did say he was grateful that we taught him how to cook, how to do his laundry, how to write, including thank you notes, and the importance of good manners. He went on to say that he knew that in relationships things must be equal and that the division of labor did not have to be determined by gender.

This year, as they have done for a number of years, early on Father’s Day my husband and son will run a 5K race for local families in need. I may not receive an Old Spice gift set or a tie. But that’s okay. I got exactly what I wanted for Father’s Day.

Rabbi Victor S. Appell is the Reform community rabbi and senior Jewish educator at Rutgers Hillel in New Brunswick, NJ. He lives with his husband, Colin Hogan, and their two sons, Avi and Lev.

Rabbi Victor S. Appell

Published: 6/12/2019

Categories: Family, Parenting
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