This Sunday will mark Father’s Day. Like many of you, we’ll be getting the grill fired up, the coolers loaded up with drinks, and carousing the card aisles for just the right mix of funny and sincere sentiments.
It amuses me that Mother’s Day cards are full of flowing poetry and giant bouquets of flowers, but somehow the male parent is mostly recognized by poorly drawn cartoons that reference golf clubs, lawn mowers, empty wallets, or intestinal disturbances.
To be fair, there’s a second segment of cards that are designed for fathers of adult children, that usually show some ducks or deer on the front, and offer Alan Alda-ish acknowledgement of a job well done….the Hallmark version of “Sorry for what I put you through those first 25 years, but I want you to know I get it now.”
I think our family is typical of many in our current society. My kids will celebrate here with their stepdad. Their father is a thousand miles away, and will have to be content with phone calls. My son will celebrate as a Daddy himself, and is most looking forward to sleeping in and handmade cards. It’s the little things when you have children that are still in single digit ages.
It strikes me that for as many happy celebrations on Sunday, there will be sadness and melancholy: children and fathers who are emotionally estranged; those who have lost their Dad or their child; families that are separated by miles, whether they be serving in the military, struggling to hold together a fractured family, or simply spread far and wide as they travel life’s journey. There will be many quiet tears shed this Sunday for words never said, opportunities lost, and plain cruel fate. I’ll be mentally hugging some friends who will be facing Father’s Day without their Dads …..and smiling for the friends I have who are celebrating this as their first Father’s Day.
Joy and sorrow, laughter and tears, ying and yang.
I’ll be thinking of my own father, who died much too young in 1973. I have now lived longer than my Dad did, which is, for some reason, an uneasy realization. The hollow in my stomach won’t come from missing my Dad, though. It will be more for the lack of concrete memories of Father’s Days past, the ones during which my Father was front and center. 1973 was a long time ago. My memories of my Dad have become fuzzy and unfamiliar. I can see his face, but can’t recall his voice anymore. I can picture him perfectly walking down the sidewalk with a cigarette, but don’t remember his aftershave. It’s sad to acknowledge that my recollections of someone who was so critical to me are beginning to fade. It’s like catching a favorite old movie on TV late at night….you know you loved it, but you can’t quite recall all the details of the story anymore.
If my Dad were going to be at my house this Sunday, I’d ask him what his dream vacation would be. I’d watch a Cardinals game with him. I’d ask him if he ever wished he’d chosen a different line of work. I’d get his input on how to tame the side yard and make it useful space. I’d ask him about HIS parents, whom I have no memory of at all. I’d let him man the BBQ, or at least let him supervise, and I’d definitely have pork steaks on that grill.
(If you don’t know what pork steaks are, you’re not from South St. Louis, and, I’m sorry.)
I’d ask him if he’d ever wanted to go to college. I’d ask him how he managed to eat bologna sandwiches every day and not hate bologna. I’d apologize for not having any Falstaff in the cooler, but make sure there was plenty of Budweiser and Pepsi.
Life is a fast journey, and the twists and turns in the road can come out of nowhere. This Father’s Day, whether you get to share BBQ with your Dad or resort to a phone call or, for my high tech friends, a video conferencing session, try to make it count. Skip the funny fart card, and write your Father a letter. Don’t waste a phone call by “Just want to wish you a Happy Father’s Day”, but thank your Dad for one specific thing he taught you. Make plans to get together and then KEEP THEM. If the miles are too great, at least agree to chat more often.
There won’t always be “next year”. Make your memories. Strengthen your bonds. Don’t hide behind Hallmark cards and 2 minute phone calls. Appreciate what you have, even if it’s not a scene right out of Leave it to Beaver.