Commentary: Happy Father's Day -- from one Dad to another
June 10, 2009
WIESBADEN, Germany -- As the months pass since my dad died, I find myself sharing more and more jokes, stories and anecdotes I learned from him. There's not a day that goes by that I don't use some expression I heard him say or find myself looking at the world in ways colored by his outlook on life.
People often tell me they wish they had met him.
It's strange, because for my siblings and I, we don't usually think of him as a funny guy; although, all three of us can instantly raise a smile on the others face by quoting some silly expression he once said.
As someone who grew up during the Great Depression, who lost his overbearing father at a young age, a hard drinker who sometimes stayed that way for days and a man prone to lose his temper and lash out at anyone within reach at very unexpected times, Dad was in no way like the television dads portrayed by Fred MacMurray in "My Three Sons" or Michael Landon in "Little House on the Prairie."
Growing up we learned to stay out of his way whenever he was home, because we knew eventually he would work up a head of steam and boil over.
He wasn't the kind of father who suggested heading outside after work to toss a football around. While he made sure we had baseball gloves and basketballs growing up, he just didn't seem all that interested in sports or to have the time for them. The same went for music - he paid for our music lessons, encouraged us to play and appreciated listening to jazz, his passion, but somehow lost the desire to perform himself once he left home to fend for himself - as if playing music, like sports, was something best left to children or the professionals.
He took us traveling all over Europe, exposed us to art, natural history, classical orchestras, but there was always an undercurrent that the old man's temper would cast a shadow over the experience.
Having grown up with lots of friends who came from military families - with dads who woke up in the middle of the night with clenched fists ready for combat after time in Vietnam or houses where Moms were mostly in charge while fathers were away on duty - we kids learned that most adults were best left to their own devices while we stuck together to discover the world on our own.
And yet our house was a place where guests were always welcome - our childhood friends spending as much time at our house as their own, friends and strangers crowding around our dinner table and the living room sofa frequently occupied by overnight guests.
Unlike the house in Philadelphia where my dad grew up where children were expected to only speak when spoken to, our home - which didn't always stay in one place for too many years at a time - was a place where conversation was a highly valued commodity. It's how we learned about the world, how we grew to appreciate the rich diversity of people who passed through our door and shared their stories with us - and how we expressed our frustrations, hopes and pride in one another. They say talk is cheap, but in our family talk was the currency of our upbringing. It was as educational as anything we were exposed to in a classroom.
And despite the unkind words that were spoken occasionally in anger in our house, we knew that both of our parents loved us fiercely and we could always count on them when we were in trouble.
As Father's Day approaches, I realize how much of my father I carry with me everyday. It's in my desire to always do my best, to not settle for mediocrity and in my ability to find joy in the people, places and natural wonder of the world around me.
I hope I've done a better job of being more involved in my childrens' lives, but I also realize the world has changed a lot from when my father was a young man raising children.
Here's wishing he were still around to see how I've done.
Happy Father's Day Dad.