Father’s Day is this weekend, and most guys I know don’t need or want a big celebration to acknowledge the day.  All they really want is the freedom to relax either by the pool while enjoying a good book and some good food, or having the ability to go for a long run/hike/bike ride, play tennis or golf, go fishing, sailing or kayaking, or just stay home and watch their favorite sports. The main theme is they don’t want to be burdened with any chores or a lot of fuss, and presents are not particularly important because being unencumbered for the day is the real gift.

I’m not sure why more moms don’t steal a page from the dads’ playbook.  For the longest time, I tried to find the perfect gift and make the perfect plans for either my own father, my father-in-law, or my son’s father, even after our divorce. But eventually, I stopped– not because I no longer cared, but simply because I realized that for them the real reward was being acknowledged for their efforts as fathers and being permitted to enjoy a low-key day.

21st century dads are a whole new breed. Unlike their fathers that mostly focused on providing financially for their families, these guys have to be there emotionally, share in household responsibilities and take more time off work than any other prior generation to be present for their kids’ activities.  To do all this without a real role model isn’t easy, but I’ve found that most aren’t just stepping up to meet today’s expectations, they are going out of their way to exceed them for no other reason than just love, often without sufficient acknowledgment in my opinion.

For over two decades now as a divorce attorney, I have had the incredible experience of working with dedicated fathers, who all want to be an integral part of their children’s lives.  Not once has a father abandoned his children under my watch, and seeing the love and commitment these dads show their kids has warmed my heart and given me an incredible sense of purpose all these years.

Now, my divorce clients that are single dads do have a little bit more of a challenge than those in an intact family, mainly because on Father’s Day they are usually 100% responsible for their kids, so they don’t necessarily have the ability to just relax the way others do while family step in to provide child care. Yet even these single dads quickly learn that the secret to a fun day is to keep it simple for everyone, and they have zero expectations when it comes to gifts. Time with their children is really all they care about, and building memories together.

When couples divorce, the child-rearing responsibilities often have to be revisited, and what I often find is that it creates an opportunity for men to step up and take on a more active role as fathers, which maybe some mothers resent but children always love.  I experienced this first-hand when I got divorced years ago, but then for my son’s high school years he decided to primarily live with me, and I managed everything, until a few months ago when I hit a wall.  When all my words of wisdom kept falling on deaf teenage years, I called my ex-husband for help with our son, and to his credit although he had no legal obligation to do so, his moral obligation to provide guidance to our adult child at a difficult moment kicked in, and he took over.  I can only hope our son appreciates the love and support his father has given him at a time where my emotional capacity to give was fully depleted.

As a recent empty nester, I am learning to appreciate the quiet at home along with the simple pleasures in life, and in doing so I am definitely stealing several pages from the boys’ playbook, and I encourage others to do the same. Let’s keep it real, and just celebrate Father’s Day in a way that brings you joy. And to my ex-husband, I want to extend a special thanks for being such a kind, patient and loving father at a time where our son needed you most.

Happy Father’s Day!

By Regina A. DeMeo