It is Father’s Day as I write this column. For many, this day is something unique, a celebration of that special man in our lives called “dad.” For others it is a day of longing to have one more golden hour with a beloved father long gone from this earth and for others still a day of ambivalence to celebrate a man they love but truly didn’t like or a man who was cruel.
No matter how one feels about the man they call dad, papa, pop, stepfather or father, the fact of the matter is that they came into parenthood, very much the way every one else does, by accident, by plan or by quirk of fate. I hope that no matter how badly you perceive your childhood to have been, you are able to find one pleasure in the man that is your father, even if it is only the fact that you were born and by your life and your actions you have somehow made the world a bit better place.
My father is long gone. It would be lovely to call him on the phone and pass some time, but even when he was alive my father was not one for talking on the phone. In fact, talking was just not something he did a lot of. He was a quiet and introspective man. He was not the perfect father, but he did the best he could. It’s a fact I understand better as I grow older and am able to examine my own failures and successes and my own self perceptions. He was just a young man trying to make his own way in the world. He fought in a war, married and started a family because that is what people did. He worked hard every day of his life, saw some dreams realized and other dreams dashed on the rocks of reality. He impacted my life in so many ways, just as your father, dear reader, has impacted yours. By example, he taught me to be comfortable with quiet, to find the stillness in my own soul and not run from it, to embrace the strength found there. He taught me the joy of laughter because he did it so rarely—usually when he read a book in the bathtub. That sound of laughter coming through the bathroom door somehow made the world a good place, my mother, sister and I grinning at each other and basking in the pleasure of such a small thing. He patiently answered the host of questions I could come up with as he fixed the car, built sidewalks, remodeled the kitchen or ran his small printing press in the basement or while we waited for my mother to be done with doctor visits or go into a store. He allowed me to try the things he did even if I wasn’t a boy, and made sure when I started to drive that I knew how to check the oil, read a tire gauge and fill the tires if they needed it. He wasn’t perfect, that man I called dad. We butted heads and hearts a lot. There were no “how to” books to teach him how to navigate the parenting waters.
My youngest son, Keith, and his wife Danielle, welcomed their daughter Lili into the world three weeks ago. This is Keith’s first Father’s Day. There is no one more excited about this holiday. For him it represents a new beginning—a milestone. He’s not looking for a card or a present. For him, each day is a gift filled with the pleasure of feeding his daughter or changing a diaper. He and Danielle read every parenting book they could lay their hands on before their little flower arrived so he imagines himself prepared. I won’t be the one to tell him that there are a multitude of things that tiny little girl will throw at him in the next 20 years that will make him want to tear pages out of the books he’s been reading and burn them and others that will make him so glad he’d read them. Keith will become at least a minor deity in Lili’s world and will be able to do no wrong for at least a few years before she determines that he is so far out of touch with the times until finally she realizes he’s a good guy once more. He is in this fatherhood game for good. It will be the best and hardest work he has ever done.
Fatherhood is something my son has wanted since he was a small boy. He has dreamed of being the kind of father he always wanted his father to be for him and could not. He has spent his life examining the lives of other men and picking the things he liked and making them his own. One of the men he has chosen to emulate in many ways is his stepfather, Steve. It is the greatest gift anyone could have ever given my husband. The other is my daughter Carri’s husband, Quentin, who enjoys his girls and the raising of them with unflagging energy and enthusiasm, gentleness, joy and patience. I am eagerly watching this adventure my son has undertaken into fatherhood. Though he’s been reading books, the one book he has needed but will never find is the book of directions that should have come with his little girl.
Happy Father’s day to all you dads out there and to all the dads you love. They may not be perfect, but I’m certain they are doing the best they can and always have. Do a dad a favor—buy them a book to read or an audio book to listen to so they can sit down and relax for a while, separating themselves from all the expectations the world, their children and the mothers of their children heap on them. Inscribe the inside of the book with a thought or a memory that meant a lot to you in your growing up. That book will become a treasure for your father, something to be kept for all time.
I promise they will like it much better than a tie or underwear.
At age 10, Anne realized she was never going to get to be Miss America since reading a book was not an acceptable talent. So she went on to get a job and raise a family. Along the way, she fixed meals, picked up toys, helped with homework, and collected a drawer full of rejection slips for her “great American novel.” It was not all bad, however, since she ended up wallpapering a closet with them. She currently designs and creates greeting cards for her tiny company, The Frog Prints, LLC, and also works full-time as a Training Specialist. Anne is currently tethered to reality by a loving spouse, two dogs, one cat and the occasional hurricane that blows through Florida, although falling headlong and happily into a book is still her favorite “talent.” She can be reached at