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Thursday, June 14, 2012

Daddy Oh












Once upon a time, stories passed from generation to generation as the soft glow of the campfire highlighted the fine gray hairs of the patriarch's beard. Knuckles reddened from dragging a club through the wilderness, fathers of the clan sat apart, remote and silent, while the women of the clan gathered in a circle chewing on the leather of their men's shoes, to soften them for greater comfort. The sultry smell of beef jerky perfumed the night air.

Fast forward to the 1950's, when fathers appeared on the doorstep, briefcase in hand, greeted by children with freshly washed faces and the matriarch, slightly scented, in a starched shirtwaist, panty hose and full make up. How times have changed. Children are hushed as the patriarch settles into his recliner, remote in hand and a TV tray at his feet, as the stories around the campfire have evolved into the evening news. The sultry smell of beef roast perfumes the night air.

Welcome the 1960's and the Age of Aquarius. The gatherings still take place around a campfire, but the women of the clan have grown restless and now demand not only a seat in the inner circle, but have abandoned their undergarments as well, and want their own set of clubs to go out to do a little foraging of their own. The air is perfumed with the smell of whatever can be found in the back of the refrigerator, or from a white sack of cheeseburgers on the kitchen counter. Patriarch meets matriarch and she is holding the remote in her hand as a bargaining chip for a night out with the girls.

We meet at last on the other side of the millennium divide. The matriarch who can now have it all, looks across the table at the patriarch, who now must do it all AND be emotionally available. As their eyes meet, they look longingly at the remote lying on the table between them and realize neither has the energy to pounce.

The truth.

Not much has changed.

Except maybe the bit about chewing the shoes.

Oh and in each of the little glimpses around the campfire, the father, the patriarch, the breadwinner, the man-of-the-house... wearing a tie. extremely ugly tie.

Father's Day...Much Ado about Something...ends in a tie.

Surely, most assuredly, we can do better than this.

Because by all accounts, fathers deserve credit where credit is due. Unlike the current trend in the advertising cycle, where all men are fumbling, bumbling idiots, forced to carry their wife's purse and required to be eloquent in expressing their deepest feelings, the truth needs telling. The narrative requires some serious editing.

So I come to you in complete honesty. I have only two reputable perspectives on this topic.

Two men.

One, my own father.

The other, the father of my children.

My own father was a difficult man, prone to silences and sudden bursts of anger. He was a man of very few words and sparing in his compliments. His persona was a gift from his father, a man who didn't spare the rod and never spoiled the child. But this man, my father, worked hard every day of his life to make our lives, his children's lives, better. He went without, slogged through the mud and the rain and the snow, walking the streets of downtown Chicago making his sales calls. He had a distinctive stride that was so recognizable I could pick him out of the many commuters piling off the train, three blocks away from our apartment window. I had trouble keeping up with him, his step requiring three of my own. But if I stumbled, his hand was always magically in reach. I only saw him cry twice in his lifetime. Once when his father died and once on the day I left home to be a wife in a city far away. The only present he consented to receive was a blue shirt for work. It never crossed my mind to offer him a tie. Never. His deeds were enough words for me.

The father of my children is, as well, a man of few words with a devout work ethic. He is a gentle man. A man who lives his life setting the example for his children to follow. Rising at dawn and out the door to work, each and every day, only to come home and change into his role as coach, lawn maintenance and home repair expert, baseball throwing, guitar playing, home movie taking, camera-ready-never-in-the-picture, hero. He was the one to sit in the front seat as the boys backed down the driveway, learner's permit in hand. He is the man who showed his sons the simplicity of growing up in a rural community and the importance of an extended family. He taught them how to water ski, how to manage a checkbook, how to apply for a job and how to keep one, how to stretch a dollar and how to save a penny. He survived scout camp and baited the hook on the end of their line. He taught them to get out and see the world, by going out and seeing the world, from London to Sri Lanka to Australia. Then he came home, and took his sons on road trips through the Badlands and Yellowstone, just as he had as a boy. He taught them how to sing through his love of music. What he could not say, he could play on his guitar. The father of my children, who lost his own father at 14, made up for the parts of his life that he missed by matching the strides of the father he treasured so. The steadfast, gentle and tender man he walked beside. The man who made him smile. The man who called him son.

So, my advice to you on this Father's Day is simple.

Skip the tie.

Find a way to tell a story around the campfire.

To simply say.

I love you Dad. 

And for those of you at a loss for words...

Try this...


Fathers steady the handlebars, ride the brake on the passenger side, cover the bounced checks, fall asleep in chairs while waiting up, pace in the emergency room, pack the car, unload the car, fix stuff, grill the steaks, wear dorky clothes, like even dorkier music, tell tales of life long ago and act tough. In order to be a good Dad, you can't let on how much you love, but the good ones, like you Dad, let the love leak out around the edges once in awhile. 

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