Our family has lots of great Dads; fathers of children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren. Overall, they have been, and continue to be, examples of hard work, selflessness, compassion and love. Oh yeah, occasionally they are also there to point out that line in the sand and make sure you know the consequences for crossing it because, well, that’s their job too.
But just days away from Father’s Day this is not about them though I love them all. This is about the man I called Dad. Tomorrow will be the 28th anniversary of his death and that year, on Father’s Day I went to his funeral. For a long time that is what stuck with me…a Father’s Day funeral. But what a disservice to the man he was, the father he was.
My Dad loved to point out that he was the only father he knew that informed the mother her child had been born. You see, they had arranged to adopt me before my birth and it just so happened on the morning I arrived in the world my mother and grandmother were shopping for baby clothes. My Dad put a big sign proclaiming “It’s a girl!” on the back door to greet them when they returned.
As a father of the 60’s and 70’s, looking back I believe he was ahead of his time. He thought I was very smart, probably much more so than I am, but he encouraged me to never be ashamed to have a brain, to never stop learning, to challenge myself. He set the bar high but never criticized if I didn’t meet it. He simply gave me some new tools and set it a little higher. He taught me that competition and effort and failing were all part of life and were things to be embraced rather than shied away from. As a man of example, he walked the walk. In his late seventies, he suffered from macular degeneration. He couldn’t drive, something he dearly loved, and many everyday tasks became a struggle. But he arranged to go to the local Society for the Blind and took Braille classes, coming home each time to study and practice. He didn’t know the meaning of “give up”.
I could write pages about him and before I’m gone I probably will, but this Father’s Day reflection is really about what you learn about the people you love from, often, the most unexpected places. I’ve heard from people how my Dad had an effect on them; often small things, sometimes not, but things remembered to this day.
When I was growing up, in the fall it was common for the neighborhood to rake their leaves into piles in the gutter and burn them. We had a huge front lawn, giant trees and raking was no small task. There was a family in our neighborhood of four boys and two girls. Two of the brothers were walking home past our house and of course, couldn’t resist kicking each pile of leaves to oblivion. Before they even reached the corner, my Dad appeared with rakes. One of the brothers told me years later that my father made them rake up everything they had spread out, which he acknowledged was correct. But what stuck with him was that my Dad brought out three rakes and worked with them to clean it all back up.
My Dad was a pilot. He had a small private plane and loved to fly every chance he got. Some high school friends of mine told me years later about how my father took them to the airport and took them up in his plane, even letting them “fly” once they were airborne. They all counted it as one of the coolest memories of that time in their life.
Shortly after my birth, my biological mother had plans to move a great distance and was going to be driving alone. My father had only met her twice, but he arranged to have her car picked up from her workplace and paid for an oil change, tune-up and four new tires before her journey.
There are many other stories I have only heard in the years since his death. He never talked about them, never looked for accolades or praise, it was a part of who he was and the satisfaction he got from doing the things he did was reward enough for him.
I knew he was a great guy and I loved him, but it is such a gift to know others appreciated him as well. It would seem part of the measure of a man is what he does when no one is watching. As we approach Father’s Day, I hope many of you can appreciate the fathers in your lives that do things for us and for others every day. And if you have a story, tell it, it is an immeasurable present. Happy Father’s Day!