I know that I haven't posted in ages. As many people with school-age kids know, June can be as busy as December, except without the holiday shopping. As the school year and the kids' activities draw to an end, our lives are filled with school assemblies, parties, thank-you teas, rehearsals, and performances. Last weekend alone I spent 10 hours either watching performances or working backstage. All of this is juggled within our regular schedule of work and school.
On Mother's Day I posted something that I'd posted elsewhere before. Will I dare do the same today, on Father's Day? You betcha--but not out of laziness. The following column was published nine years ago in a parenting newsletter. I wrote it as my first fatherless Father's Day approached, and every June since then, I've dug it out and read it again. It reminds me of just how much my dad is part of my everyday life even though he's not here with us anymore.
Father's Day 2000
This is going to be a hard Father’s Day for me, because my dad died a few months ago. I grieve not only because I’ve lost my father and friend, but also because my children have lost their grandfather. My son, who is four, will probably have hazy memories of his Grandpa John, but my two-year-old daughter won’t remember him at all. I’m so sorry that they won’t have the chance to really get to know him.
My dad had an ordinary kind of life. He wasn’t famous or rich, nor did he have a prestigious job or a bunch of letters after his name. Although he worked hard, he wasn’t particularly amibtious. I don’t think he analyzed his parenting style or his kids much, the way many of us do today. He just lived his life in the way he thought best, and in doing so, he taught me some valuable lessons.
When I was little, my parents opened our small house to people needing a place to stay; we also worked in a soup kitchen. We were exposed to diverse ways of life, and I learned not to be quick to judge others. I don’t know what they’ve had to face in their lives, nor where I’d be under the same circumstances. My dad was always one to lend a hand, showing that small actions can make a big difference to someone else.
I don’t remember many big gifts that he gave me. I do, however, remember very clearly my joy when he brought home things like brand new writing tablets, blank and full of potential, or cigar boxes for my crayons and treasures (I still have one). These small, everyday gifts were the really important ones. Our favorite times together weren’t exotic family vacations, but trips to the library and hours playing cards. Activities don’t have to be exciting or even productive to be worthwhile.
My dad was one for field trips. When we got in the car with him, we never knew where we’d end up—maybe it would be a greasy-spoon restaurant with fabulous food or a bizarre museum. These trips taught me the benefits of flexibility, curiosity and individuality. Sometimes you get great rewards by throwing away your plans and turning onto an unknown road just to see what you’ll find. If you always follow everyone else, you’ll miss out.
While my children are young, some parts of my life are on hold, but I know that I don’t have to abandon my dreams. As a kid, my dad wanted to join the merchant marine, but he ended up as a salesman, a sensible job for a family man. After retiring, he discovered a merchant marine WWII Liberty ship maintained and run by volunteers in San Francisco. He joined the crew and lived his childhood dream. He undertook difficult training to get his certification as an able-bodied seaman, which showed me that learning is a lifelong process. One of his greatest experiences was being at the ship’s wheel through the Panama Canal; he was 63 years old.
My dad and I had our problems and disagreements, as all families do, but I always knew that he loved me. I now realize the importance of his unconditional love. Reflecting back on his life, I see that this man, who led an ordinary life, working an ordinary job and living in an ordinary house, was an extraordinary person, wiser than he ever knew.
I tell my kids that, although we can’t see Grandpa John anymore, he’s still in our minds and our hearts. And he’s very much alive in the person I am now. My kids may never have the fun of hanging out and learning to play dominoes with their grandpa, but at least I can pass his spirit on to them.