Father’s Day: Who Can Take His Place?
Dear Fellow Dads,
I greet you with affection this warm Father’s Day morning from the depths of my beloved Adirondack chair in the backyard — where, with coffee in hand, I’ve been listening to the dawn birds and thinking about the state of modern fatherhood.
Several things come to mind.
First off, you yourself may be taking a well-deserved sleep-in this morning. If so, brother, don’t let me disturb your well-earned rest. Snooze on! I’ll tell those crazy birds to pipe down.
Secondly, I do hope you get something nice from the home crowd this day — real blueberry pancakes, perhaps, or a lovely clay ashtray that looks like something a cow left in a pasture. At the very least, some cheap cologne and a necktie you wouldn’t wear to a clown convention. As we dads know better than most, it’s the thought that counts — especially these days.
To hear some people tell it, we are an endangered species, maybe even an unneeded extravagance. Not long ago, I heard part of a report on NPR, for instance, soberly asserting that if present social trends continue, close to half American households will soon have no father figure in them.
I regret to say the “experts” commenting on this trend didn’t seem overly worried about this fate, pointing out that “other” members of the increasingly diverse modern American family will simply take up the slack and fill in the roles that have been occupied by dads since we began walking fully upright.
This got me thinking about where you’d be without your dad, and me without mine. Maybe yours happened to be a peach of a dad. Or maybe he wasn’t such great shakes. But he was your dad, and I’ll wager he taught you far more than you realize. Carl Jung said children dream their fathers’ dreams — that it’s mothers who teach compassion and generosity to their offspring but fathers who show a child how to face the world.
They’re Guy Things
After all, without fathers, who would be the second person to hold the newborn and declare without the slightest bit of embarrassment, “She really has her mother’s beautiful eyes. But check out this grip! This kid’s a natural athlete!”
Without dads, who’d show you how to whistle using a mere blade of grass or safely whittle with your first pocketknife? Who would read to you until he fell asleep or take you to see your first toddler-inappropriate PG animated movie? Furthermore, who will make a fool of himself filming your stage debut as the living tomato in the preschool Thanksgiving pageant?
Who else could fully explain the Human Genome Project to you, or at least how to catch a ball and kick the can and later play golf? By that same measure, who’ll take you fishing and tell you funny stories you probably shouldn’t tell Mom you heard from Dad?
By the way: Measure twice, cut once. That’s something a woodshop papa will tell you, junior. Without a dad, how would you ever learn the importance of playing by the rules and how to be a gracious loser — and, more important, winner? That lying and cheating are for liars and cheaters, and how the world may never know what you’ve done, but you won’t forget any time soon?
Who’ll teach you how attitude really is altitude — and that whatever you send out to the world always comes back multiplied at least times two? Or that there’s no shame in falling down and getting hurt — unless you don’t get up and try again? (Girls included.) Or how following your heart is far more important than following the crowd? (Boys included.)
On that score, which of the “experts” could best teach a kid to tie a square knot, plant a tree, mow a lawn, build a campfire or stand up to bullies? Who else is going to drive you on your first date — and place the fear of God in your first solo date if the kid with the unibrow doesn’t get your fanny home by 11:30 sharp?
Who’ll devote an entire NFL Sunday afternoon to showing you how to drive a stick-shift in the empty parking lot of the high school? Or explain that kindness really is a true sign of strength, and that judging others is better left to a much higher authority? Or that believing in something much bigger than yourself is the short-cut to a satisfying life. That nothing ever works out quite the way you expect but that’s OK — the universe has you covered?
Life’s Little Lessons
How would you know you should never fail to lend a hand, help a stranger, be flexible, skip complaining, never gossip and always be prepared to revise the game plan on the spot?
Take a change of clothes along, though. In life, it always rains. A father, goes a French proverb, is “nature’s banker.” Who better to show you how to handle your first credit card or buy a used car or finance your first starter house than a dad who’s been there, done that?
Who else would you call when you’re thinking of changing careers, when you’ve lost a job or you’re going though a rough patch in the marriage? Who else could believably point out that most of what you fear will actually never happen — that nothing good comes easy, but life has a marvelous way of working out for the best, so have patience and honor your own dreams?
Only a dad can chew you out when you really need it or when you’ve royally screwed up. He’ll soon calm down and tell you to make amends and set things right — that there’s no dishonor in making a mistake, just in choosing not to learn from it. Without dads, who’ll be there to tear up at your wedding, only partially due to the outrageous catering bill, and kiss you before you waltz away under a shower of rice to your brand-new life?
Who’ll spoil the grandkids rotten (once the little devils come along) and never think twice about buying them ice cream an hour before supper?
Who else would you want to say the Thanksgiving grace or walk you down the aisle or make the first toast or wear those stupid plaid pants every year in the annual family Christmas photo? Or doze off in his easy chair before the dishes are done? Probably nobody but a dad — the thought of which, frankly, makes me a little sleepy on this sweet Sunday morning.
Despite what the experts say, regardless of my future prospects, I’m a dad and damned proud to be one. So excuse me while I go back to bed for a little Father’s Day snooze.
Award-winning author Jim Dodson, Sunday essayist with The Pilot and editor of PineStraw magazine, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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