The radio and television ads that come out every year before Father’s Day are easy for me to ignore. They blend in with all the other commercials that are background noise in-between the programs. Actually, the programs are often background noise too.
The other day I heard an ad that said, “Here’s something you can do for your dad on Father’s Day.” I heard my mind say, “No I can’t.” There’s nothing I can do for my dad now, since he died in 1990. Not that he would have expected much on “his” day. His enjoyment of Father’s Day was seeing the satisfaction in the eyes of his family when gifts were given.
I am a father, but in that capacity I am semi-retired. Our kids do sometimes ask me for advice, perhaps not realizing that there is less and less that I know that they don’t. It’s very flattering, none the less. Proffering advice that isn’t sought is risky, but they tolerate some of that too.
When I think of my dad, I don’t think of him as being a father in the sense that Bill Cosby’s TV character was a father, or (for those who remember older TV shows) Beaver and Wally’s dad, Ward, or Opie’s dad, Sherriff Taylor. He was mostly hands-off with day-to-day issues, which were handled by our mom. He engaged more in the big-picture things, on which he shared his experiences and philosophy.
He wasn’t somebody who was comfortable talking about sex, but he thought it was his responsibility to talk to me about it, and with a red face and much throat clearing, he did it. And, though I was just as embarrassed, I was glad that he mustered up the courage to do “the talk.”
His biggest gift to me was what I hope I’ve given to my kids, and that is being a model of what a father and husband should be. That doesn’t mean he was perfect, (as I am surely not) but he worked hard, respected people of all backgrounds, and treated his wife with respect. He rarely yelled, didn’t hit, and shared his philosophies on life with us. He also made very corny puns — the same ones over and over.
What I did not give my father in large enough amounts was my time. As a typical kid, I chose to spend time with friends rather than my dad a lot of the time, and he wasn’t the type to enforce his authority to make me do whatever activity he was engaged in. That’s a regret.
Ironically, I have the same regret with my own children; too often choosing work or – and I’m not proud of this – television over activities they wanted me to engage in with them.
Despite some regrets, my years of being a father have easily trumped my career successes and anything else I’ve accomplished. Now I have the pleasure of trying my hand at being a grandfather, which is like fatherhood for people with less energy and less accountability.
So many things become clear in hindsight, and to me the clarity of my father’s influence on me has grown since his death. I owe him a lot, and my Father’s Day gift to him this year is to remember that, and to think about how – even at my advanced age – I would benefit from being more like him.