I think about my dad every day. This year marks our eighth Father’s Day without him. In our family’s early years, my dad often scheduled his work travel so he was away on that third Sunday in June, avoiding the discomfort of having his five children fuss over him on what should have been his special day. As the years passed, he tended to be home more. Even then he insisted on low key celebrations, no gifts and always an emphasis on being together as a family with little mention of the day. Sometimes we played soccer, and always we had food, a home cooked meal or a spread from the local deli. After dessert, my dad would read his cards, do his best to graciously accept the gifts we were told not to bring, and quietly thank us.
I often wondered if my dad’s resistance to the spotlight of Father’s Day resulted from sometimes feeling inadequate as a dad. He worked so hard to provide for us; tired and stressed he could be harsh and impatient, losing his temper at times. As a little girl, I distinctly remember wanting my dad to be happy, and loving how I felt when I could make him laugh or give him reason to be proud.
As I navigated adolescence and young adulthood, I left the obedient daughter behind, and was determined to make my own way, while my dad was determined to maintain control, protecting me from my own mistakes. Even as a young parent, I could not appreciate for one second, all that my dad tried to teach me. I fought him and criticized his wisdom, believing I could do a better job of parenting than him. Of course I learned I wasn’t any better. I managed to create, and master, my own parenting drama.
When I was well into my twenties, my mom told me that my dad had come to her saying, the kids don’t come to me the way they come to you, they avoid me. My mom in her kind and gentle way suggested that perhaps he spend more time listening, and less time telling us what to do. It’s probably the first time I realized that my dad was a human being and he, more than anyone, deserved my compassion. For the next twenty years, my dad and I grew up together. He respected me, treating me like a grown up, and I grew to appreciate his wisdom, counting on him to advise and support me on the most important decisions in my life.
While I don’t believe my dad ever felt completely comfortable with the hoopla of Father’s Day, the love of his children and grandchildren seemed to soften his sometimes hard exterior and open his heart to accepting our love, big, big love, he so deserved. On the last Father’s Day we spent together, he wrote a special message on each one of the cards we had given him, and then displayed them on top of our family’s upright piano, a sweet gesture I will never forget.
The following February, when he passed away, we were going through his personal things and found the Father’s Day cards with the inscribed messages, so poignant and sweet. I keep mine in my dresser drawer and set it on my dresser each Father’s Day. This little ritual always makes me smile.
Happy Father’s Day Dad, I love you and miss you. I continue to make decisions based on your wisdom and feel sure you would be proud of me. I am fortunate that the lessons you taught me live on in my heart. I am a better parent because you had the courage to be a better father.
Wishing all my favorite dads the courage to be the best dads they can be.