Tag Archives: Dads

Remembering Fathers’ Day

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.

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December 15

It’s funny how certain dates stick in a person’s mind.  Birthdays and holidays are among those dates, though I am ashamed to say I could only estimate when my sisters’ birthdays fall.

We don’t so much celebrate the days people pass away.  We don’t call them “deathdays” as a counter to “birthdays.”  Those days are just regular days with perhaps some quiet moments of reflection.  Some people visit gravesites, and while I understand the sentiment of doing so, it’s not something I think to do.

My dad died on December 15th, 1990.  It was a surreal day for all of us, as my family had to make the decision to turn off the machines that were keeping him going.  He never regained consciousness after heroic surgery to save him wasn’t successful.

It’s hard not to think about that day, but it’s more important to consider all that came before it.  To focus on the end of someone’s life is like staring at the period at the end of a sentence at the end of a book.

So, thanks for understanding when I again share a few thoughts about my dad.

He was a big guy at 6’3,” but he never thought of himself as an imposing figure.  He was a staunch conservative when Ronald Reagan was still just an actor, but he was also what we now call an environmentalist.  His biggest love was planting trees in the 160 acres of woodland he bought.

He was also what we now call a social conservative, and yet he welcomed a black son-in-law, a Catholic daughter-in-law, and a super-liberal, long-haired son-in-law who openly despised him early on.

My dad was rooted in tradition and the status quo, and yet he was among the first in his university department to embrace computers in education.  His first personal computer came so early in the evolution of home computing that there is one just like it in the Smithsonian.

He believed strongly in individual responsibility and personal liberty.  He wasn’t a libertarian, but had leanings in that direction.  For example, he was against the mandate for seatbelts in cars because he thought manufacturers would provide them for intelligent drivers who demanded them without the federal government stepping in.

He was incurably friendly to people.  He was a member of the Optimists Club, and was truly an optimist.  He took the long view on things, and believed that people are basically good, and that the marketplace would eventually weed out the companies who didn’t act in good faith.

If my dad wasn’t working in his woods, chances are he was reading or writing.  He produced a small magazine of political and philosophical writing six times a year or so.  He produced it on a hand cranked mimeograph machine, so every eight weeks or so he had black ink stains on his hands.  He had hundreds of subscribers, and I guess it’s accurate to say that he was a blogger 40 years or more before blogging was invented.

Mostly, though, I remember that he was a really good guy.  Every kid’s parents can be embarrassing, and he probably more than most.  But, his default attitude was kindness, and despite his deep intellect, he was not even a little snobbish.

My girls’ best memories of him were when he took them fishing, and when he read kids’ books to them.  Come to think of it, I remember when he read books to us when we were kids.

So, happy December 15th.  It’s not a day that will live in infamy, but it is a day that will live on in my memory as the punctuation at the end of a good life of a good guy.

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