In America, fatherless sons or daughters once were the sympathy-generating exception to the mom-and-dad-headed family rule. That disagreeable condition rarely elicits a second thought any longer. Fatherlessness has become epidemic, its attendant social pathologies heinously tracking its explosion.
It’s an ugly trend that, happily, bypassed me. I never knew what it was to be raised in a home without a dad; and I concede with some embarrassment, I took for granted the Ozzie-and-Harriet cocoon of my upbringing. My father played a signal and salutary role in raising me, and growing up I never had reason to regard an at-home dad the unreachable luxury he has become for so many children.
— My father was the epitome of “hard worker”, to the office early, back through the door late, traveling out of town regularly. My family never wanted for anything we needed. I never worried about how we were gong to make it — including during particularly challenging patches of career turmoil he endured through the late 1970s/early ’80s. Somehow, I was serenely confident, dad would figure things out.
Yet … I can vividly picture him standing on the sidelines during one of my mid-week, late afternoon soccer practices. His necktie askew, obviously he’s rushed straight from some work situation, maneuvering his surely overstuffed day to shoehorn in an appearance at the field.
Yep, dad was pretty much a work-a-holic — but he exerted himself to be present for what was important to me, to cheer me on.
— Unlike some of my pals, I never discovered my father’s secret porn stash hidden under the bed, or in his office or .. anywhere. In fact, from whatever age he began speaking to me about such things, he made clear: gawking at pictures of naked women is not the pursuit of gentlemen.
I recall bringing home a then-treasured edition of my then-fave magazine — Famous Monsters of Filmland — featuring a shot of a rather scantily-clad actress, flashing a bewitching gaze. In gently firm but certain terms, my father let me know he didn’t care for his son imbibing that kind of stuff. He didn’t rip into me, just made the point — here, four decades later, that quiet lesson remains with me.
— My brother and I were nearly obsessive Big Time Wrestling enthusiasts. I’ll never forget Dad (and Mom!) driving us into downtown Detroit to cram inside a smoke-choked Cobo Hall so we could take in the histrionic antics of Tex Mckenzie, Dingo the Sundowner, Pampero Firpo, et al. In retrospect, I’m certain that hadn’t been their first choice for wiling away a Saturday evening — but there they were anyway.
Then there was another Saturday, this time an afternoon a few years later. We’d moved dramatically eastward to Connecticut and I’d migrated from pro-wrestling buff to Marvel comics fanatic. Dad (and again Mom) surrendered several hours to cart me from our rustic town way over to an unprepossessing, East Hartford hotel hosting a comic book convention I ached to attend.
I have no idea what they did to occupy themselves while I ogled the multiple vendors’ four-color offerings. But whatever it was, once again, I doubt it had been their prime preference for burning away part of a weekend.
So howcum an evening of “sports entertainment” theatrics? Or an afternoon’s drive over-the-river-and-through-the-woods to an obscure gathering of nerds?
Because I was their kid. They loved me.
Still gives me a lump in my throat.
— My father demonstrated to me: life is to be taken seriously. Working, reading, prayer, church, politics, meeting people, bettering oneself. These were accentuated.
Never one to lounge around swigging beers and watching endless hours of television, all the same he made space for recreation, vacations, etc — but even then, these pastimes usually served other purposes, as well: relationship building, learning something new (I think he read nearly every plaque during our visit to Cooperstown’s Baseball Hall of Fame), health, family time, etc.
Mindless hobbies? Rambling time-wasting? These never figured prominently in Dad’s scheme. Nearly consumed with stewarding time usage, he’s admired Benjamin Franklin for decades – who, not coincidentally, admonished, ” Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of.” An implied, crucial filter for my father’s use of precious minutes and hours was: “What’s the reason for this activity?” He understood and communicated life was never to be frittered away, always intended for investment in significant matters.
Thus: he arranged his business so that, where possible, he’d accomplish two or more things at once. Cassette tapes played a large role – shaving, showering, driving, they’d always be squawking recorded news, lectures, audio-books. Years before the handy, palm-sized Walkman’s advent, a boxy cassette player/recorder would be tucked in his arm as he jogged around our neighborhood. Spectators might have cocked an occasional eyebrow dad’s way, but at forty-five minutes’ end he’d exercised body and mind — while most of them had exercised neither.
— My father has enjoyed considerable success in all his endeavors — financial affluence not excluded. Yet, what I’ve seen consistently modeled from him is: blessings are for sharing with others. I’ve been abundantly graced to be around lots of magnanimous folks most of my life. My dad, perhaps, is the most generous person I know. Famous for his twenty dollar handshakes, he gets mortified when anyone brings it up — but he’s helped out my family and me more times than I can reckon. Most importantly, he’s imparted an invaluable lesson to us about sharing with others. That bests all of it.
These experiences – centered around the man first and longest in my existence – molded me, focused me. Where would I be without them? Without him? I can’t conceive it.
Shame on me for ever presuming any of this.
Thanks, Dad, for the privilege of being able to say to you: Happy Father’s Day.
Image: Cuortesy of: http://www.libela.org/sa-stavom/4434-moj-sin-nosi-haljine-i-sto-sad/