As Fathers’ Day nears, memories of Dad fill my head. From childhood, Dad was a figurehead, not a person. He was Dad. His job took him away for three days and then he’d be home for three days (although that information I wasn’t aware of at the time). He was “there”, but I had no sense of time. I was eight years old when I started knowing him. That was when he transferred to a job where he worked a regular five-day schedule and was home every night. And that was when the family began attending church regularly. I well recall that because we were in a different church every Sunday for a few months, eventually deciding where the family would attend for the rest of my parents’ lives. Until then, my belief was that Mom was the spiritual leader of the family; I was wrong, so wrong. But that’s another story.
Finding common ground came slowly. As the youngest child I soon recognized that my relationship with Dad was different from that enjoyed by my brother. Dad was an athlete from his college years, where he excelled at track, basketball and baseball; whereas I was challenged in motor skill development, to say it politely. From my early childhood, Dad saw that I was his only son who might follow in his athletic interests, and I failed him. We never talked about it, even when I became an adult. Some topics get buried. I admire that he dropped the topic, and began to accept me as a quirky, curious kid (but it took forty years for me to realize what he had done, and too late to thank him). Baseball had been his passion, and I did try the game. Summer baseball leagues saw my participation each year. Being tall for my age I was always accepted, but my inability to throw any distance, catch the ball, or hit the ball soon became obvious. Playing right field was where I always ended up. By age 12 it was all history, never to be revisited or discussed. While grateful for Dad’s interest, I was glad to end my baseball phase.
It was at age nine, in a different context, that I began to realize what a jewel of a father I had. Acknowledging my interest in music, he took me to several music stores, eventually acquiring a trombone that showed up on Christmas morning. And when I became interested in Cub Scouts, he formed Cub Scout Pack 44, became pack leader, and fostered what became a huge success at the school. Common ground was firm. My dad could do anything; of that I was sure. If he was involved in anything, whether work or church or hobbies, he led. I learned that from him. Just participating was for others; for me, I learned to always step forward to be involved. A lesson beyond price. Never explained; just done.
That we never took a vacation may seem a complaint, but since it was a concept I didn’t know, I never missed anything. A fun time for me became regular trips with Dad to his office during off hours. He would need to stop by his office for some paperwork now and then, and I enjoyed this time to have him alone with me. Not that we talked; it was just that I knew we were together. While there I mastered several childhood skills. I could staple ten envelopes together, create paperclip necklaces with alternating paperclip sizes, and make copies of my drawings with the mimeograph. Skills to brag about to Mom. What I didn’t understand at the time was the bonding that forms when a child is alone with a parent, whether or not a word is spoken. Just knowing he and I were together was important, as I recall those times so clearly and so positively. Children need such time with their fathers.
People may think of fathers and sons as doing “father/son activities”, such as going to ball games, going fishing, or other “guy stuff”. But that wasn’t us. He was never my “friend”; he was my dad. He instructed me on issues as issues surfaced; he took me to meetings and events where I would learn by observing; he was my role model on decency, honesty and in following my beliefs.
Did I ever really know him? Does anyone every really “know” their father? I think not, at least not the way we might know others. Fathers may love us deeply, but the road from parent to friend is not always a path to be taken. Dad will always be my father: a man who guided me, taught me, and served as a model for me. He was never my friend. He had his own life, beyond being a parent. Yes, I was important, but he continued to be his own person. Nothing shows it more clearly than the photo of him, taken a few years before I was born. Look carefully. Notice the shirt and tie. The year was 1938, yet that shirt reflects a man of style, a man who sees himself as special, a man willing to stand apart. That was Dad. By the time I was old enough to remember him well he was dressing more conservatively: a white shirt ever day. But in his heart he was always a man with flair.
Am I like him? No, but I didn’t want to be, nor did he want that. He wanted me to be me. I honor him for who he was: my father.