First, I want to say Happy Father’s Day to all you dads out there. Being a Dad isn’t easy. I’ve watched family members struggle with what it means to be a Dad in the twenty-first century.
My advice to the young men in my family who are about to be fathers for the first time is this: Be the Dad you wanted to have. Inevitably, of course, I get a quick nod and “you know I will” response. But it’s harder than it looks. Kids don’t stay that adorable bundle of joy you see when they are first born. Eventually, they become toddlers, then teenagers.
Some men are natural parents, others not so much. I was lucky, my father was one of the former. My father was the third of eight children. When my dad was in his mid-teens, his elder brother died, and I think it affected him deeply. When he was able, he joined the Air Force, left his hometown, and didn’t look back.
My dad never talked about his early life, at least to me. And I was so busy living my life that I rarely made it back east to visit with dad’s family, so I don’t know my extended family as much as my brothers or sister might. Later in Dad’s life, my folks would travel east to visit with his mother and siblings, but even then I got the feeling that he couldn’t wait to get the hell out of there and back home.
I won’t say my dad was an angel because I know better. But I also know that experience can leave us scarred in ways that can’t always be seen, and what little I know about his career gets my imagination running down some dark paths. He was a man, just as fallible as any other man, with a past just like anyone else, but he was my father, and I think he did right by us. Then again, I met his father, my grandfather, and my dad had an excellent example.
He was a hands-on dad, but when we were little, he was gone a lot. My dad made a career of the Air Force, and his family was part and parcel of that career. Back then, the military moved its members every one to four years, depending on the branch of service, and military specialization and need. In my dad’s case, it was about every four years with a couple of exceptions. Consequently, my siblings and I spent our childhood moving from one state or country to another until we finally landed on the West Coast.
Like most other teenagers, I knew it all and was ready to jump out into the world the minute I reached majority. With my folks’ blessing, I did just that. But I always knew they had my back, no matter what the future would bring.
That was what my dad taught me.
I miss my dad. We lost him to cancer in 2006. But I feel his presence in my life every day.
I was lucky enough to spend his last Father’s Day with him. Youngest Kid and I drove to where my folks lived at the time and spent the weekend with my parents. I’m glad we did, because the next time I saw my father, it was to be with him as he passed. My “Man of Steel,” as he used to call himself when we were kids, was gone. And the family was devastated.
We have moved on, and no one is the same.
So, on this Father’s Day, reach out to your father, wish him a Happy Father’s Day, tell him what he has meant in your life. Because if you think about it, you wouldn’t be here without him. And someday, he will no longer be here to talk to.