In Honor Of Father’s Day
Observations on my journeys in fatherhood.
Today is Father’s Day. I have a dad and he’s still alive. I’m a dad and I’m still alive. I know a few dads, too. I have been a dad now for more than 7 years. I can hardly believe it. I’m a late bloomer, so I’m a father of young children in my 50s. I don’t really mind starting late, and today, I’m just glad to be here.
I’m glad I started late, too. I was so confused when I was a young man. I had no rudder, no mentors, and I didn’t really even know who to call to ask for help if I had become a father back then. I simply was not prepared to become a father until I hit my 40’s, and the work that I did on myself before and after fatherhood has proved invaluable. I am the father I have wanted to be.
A week ago today, we went to Tibble Fork Reservoir only to find that it was crowded and parking was hard to find. So we went to a little picnic ground just a mile away from the reservoir next to the river.
This is the part where the father in me kicked in. My two young daughters got to playing with one of the boys in the other family. They scouted all over the campgrounds. They played hide and seek and they walked on the rocks. As my kids played and wandered the grounds, I could only think of the river. The water was cold and running fast. Anyone who falls into that river will be a mile away in a couple of minutes. I was thinking about safety the entire time we were there on the picnic grounds.
As I reflect on that experience, I am reflecting on another. I was a teenager in the family I grew up in. We were in Hawaii, learning to snorkel and scuba dive. I remember the training. I remember taking the breathing apparatus out of my mouth, blowing out the air, and putting it back in, 30 feet below the surface. That was scary. But not as scary as it was for my dad. Though he enjoyed his time under the sea, all he could do was count, “1, 2, 3, 4…1, 2, 3, 4…1, 2, 3, 4…” That’s what fathers do. They count their kids to make sure they’re still there. He had 4 kids. I just have 2.
I’m like that when I’m out and about with my family. I’m tracking my kids. I’m thinking of safety. I’m thinking of their safety. When we go shopping, I do the babysitting while my wife selects what to buy. I push the cart and she loads it.
My wife and I have a partnership. She decorates the house. She buys the groceries. She buys the clothes. I work a day job to pay for everything. I let her do that because I’m clueless about fashion. I don’t know care what I wear as long as it’s comfortable and looks decent. I’d rather replace a light fixture than go shopping. I’d rather mow the lawn before setting foot in Forever 21. This is who I am.
My dad never went shopping with my mom and us kids. He just never made himself available to go shopping. He never made himself available to go to the park, to Disneyland, to the movies, or even for a walk. He was kind of there, but not really. Today, I am the dad I wish I had.
I take my kids for walks. I play games with them. Oh, yeah. My dad did like to play games with me. Chess, Risk, Stratego, Yacht Race, backgammon…any game that involved strategy, my father could play, and he played them very well. He also played ping pong.
My dad inspired me to play ping pong. I love the game, and I played so much ping pong with my dad that I actually have a very well developed backhand. I’m left-handed, my dad is right-handed. He was always playing against my weaknesses in the game, so I built a very effective backhand against him.
So yeah, my dad was available for a few activities, but it was on his terms, his way. Still, I love my dad for the many gifts he has given me.
He gave me some very nice vacations. He gave me some money. He gave me literacy by modeling it. He gave me many great Christmas gifts. He gave me a home, a place to live, food to eat, clothes to wear, and many books to read. He gave me peace by going to work. He gave me something else that I could use: a work ethic that serves me still even to this day, and this I consider to be his greatest gift to me.
I learned from watching my dad, that with consistent effort over time, one develops skill, and that skill can be applied to anything one wants to do. He taught me to learn how to learn. I don’t know if that was his intention, but I do know that I learned how to apply myself to anything that I wanted to do, by watching him.
Although I may have feared my dad, he gave me security. That security came in the form of economic security, of knowing there was always food in the house. I always had something to wear. I always had a home. I never worried about rent or the mortgage. The cars always had gas and were in good repair. My dad never made that stuff any of my concerns. My dad never made me worry about money in an existential sense. He did teach me the value of money with lessons I never forgot.
My dad modeled courtesy, punctuality, and thrift. I learned all of that from my dad. I may have had many power struggles with my dad. I may have had many disagreements with my dad. But I always knew that he would be my dad. From him, I received some sort of assurance that he would still be there, working, paying the bills, ensuring the safety and security of me and the family I grew up in.
For my family, I am doing the same. I am a rock for my family to grow on. I go to work, I pay the bills, I maintain a home filled with peace, and I let them do the rest. Once kids know that they have peace, then it’s easy for them to learn to be adults. I give my family every assurance that I will be here. I let them know that I love them no matter what. I let them know that they don't have to change for me. Change is automatic.
I am glad to be a dad. I am honored to be a dad by my wife and my kids. As a dad, I know that it’s not their job to make me happy. I don’t worry about gifts on Father's Day, for I have already received the gift of fatherhood. I let whatever I have right now be enough for me.
Today, I will mow the lawn, trim it, and clean up when I’m done. I’ll get some ironite for the lawn to give it a bit more green. I’ll vacuum the house, change the sheets on the beds, and tidy things up a bit. I’ll play games with the family. I’ll spend time with my family in peace. I will do all of that by using some of the skills I have learned from my dad.