Since I was little, the holiday season has ignited a congenial and playful side in my father. Throughout the year, when he was home, his interactions with us children were didactic and parental in nature. At Christmas time however, he became a much happier, child-friendly parent. So much so, that our mother would actually let us spend time with him alone.
We would go shopping and get lunch. He wouldn’t even get upset if I didn’t eat my food, although it was clear he was biting his tongue. Everything was okay. He would put on a grandiose kind of persona in public, making the sales people laugh (or pretend to laugh). And if one of us broke something by accident, he wouldn’t be happy, but he also wouldn’t yell. We would cry anyway though.
He continued his happy christmas spirit this year during the week he can now take off from work thanks to his seniority. It’s difficult to not get frustrated when his words feel flat. It’s more difficult to not feel guilty when he buys you acceptance with nice gifts.
Maybe it isn’t an act. Maybe he really does love christmas. Maybe he’s just stressed at other times. Am I really complaining about him buying nice gifts and being cheerful? I like it when he’s like this. Even if it feels like it is following some happy-christmas-formula. You simply can’t be unhappy at christmas time, otherwise you appear ungrateful. But there is a somberness underlying the warmth in the air.
A somberness of knowing the good terms between us don’t last. We are never on bad terms at other times. But it isn’t real. I so badly want him to be authentic. To stick around during the year. To show that he cares. To have a real conversation with him, not as father and daughter, but as one person to another. Of course, I’ll always respect and admire him. There will always be a certain dynamic between us. I’m craving something from him. Something that isn’t this poster card week.
I have a bad taste in my mouth. Is it coming from me?
Maternal gatekeeping is the limiting of father involvement through use of some form of obstacle. According to this article from The Wall Street Journal, the benefits of father involvement in children’s lives are “well documented”. I have a lot of personal experience with maternal gatekeeping which had left me with a lot of resentment toward my mother.
When I first learned about maternal gatekeeping in my sociology course, I immediately responded with anger toward my mother. How could she have kept us from this extremely important figure in our lives? How could she hamper our relationship with our father?
This was not a new feeling. My mother’s gatekeeping extended past my father and to most of the world. I had in the past resented her for keeping us so sheltered. One thing the above article does not discuss in depth is mothers’ reasons for gatekeeping. It does touch on the fact that some mothers believe fathers are not “well suited” for “positive interactions” with their children.
Upon further reflection, I realized she had not restricted us for maniacal reasons. She protected us because she was scared the world would hurt us. More specifically, she was scared of the fights and tears that my father left in his wake. After a recent discussion/fight/emotional exchange with my father which I wrote about here, I remembered the many reasons it is difficult to interact in a positive manner with him.
Being a child at the time, it is difficult to say whether it was my mother’s gatekeeping that caused my father’s manner in interacting with us or if his mannerisms caused my mother’s gatekeeping. Whichever started first, I think they exacerbated each other.
Would my relationship with my father be different now if my mother hadn’t kept us so closely guarded? Probably. Would it be better? I don’t think so. I think I would have grown to resent my father for his didactic manner of interaction even more than I do now.
So while I think these “well documented” benefits of father-child relationships may be true for children with more caring fathers, I do not think gatekeeping is always the enemy. In some cases, I think gatekeeping might be beneficial.