A Father’s Day card
During the summertime, my house gets quiet only very late at night, when my three children are finally dozing and the television has gone dark until the morning. That’s where I’m at as I formulate this column on a Sunday eve, though technically it’s Monday morning and this year’s Father’s Day has officially passed. I am a man with very little sentimentality towards holidays, particularly as they pertain to me. All I generally want for my birthday is a free meal and a good night’s sleep. At Christmastime it always kind of surprises me when someone hands me a present. And Father’s Day? Give me a break. Father’s Day, in its modern incarnation, was invented by greeting card companies and ice-cream cake salesmen, a half-hearted bone thrown to an indifferent dog who probably doesn’t deserve it. That’s how I feel, anyway, because that’s how it looks through the lens of my own brand of fatherhood. The house is quiet now, at the end of the weekend, but the past 48 hours has been anything but sedate. I prefer to do my socializing on weeknights, leaving weekends free to hang out with my kids. We eat giant, multi-course breakfasts, watch movies in our pajamas, play video games, have water fights. Sometimes we leave the house for a little shopping or an event. This Saturday my wife took our youngest to her first dance class; for the past week we have been looking at her little patent-leather tap shoes and just welling up with emotion. I took our oldest to his first basketball practice, also on Saturday — and at precisely the same time as dance class, which should come as no surprise to any parent. I also probably don’t have to describe to any parents out there the sweet ache I felt as I watched my firstborn out there on the court, struggling to hit his layups and crossover dribbles. He was out there on the hardwood, on his own; all I could do was stand helpless on the sidelines, encouraging him as best I could.
My middle child often gets lost in the shuffle — as did I, another middle child, when I was growing up. I took him with me to the meat market on Saturday afternoon, where he helped me pick out a couple ribeyes and I treated him to an orange Crush in a glass bottle, most of which ended up soaking into the seats of my car. My middle child is kind of clumsy, a genetic trait, I believe, inherited directly from me. Fortunately, he also inherited my wife’s unflappability and he exhibits a weird sense of humor that is all his own. The kids, you see, are what made me a father, made me eligible for this contrived holiday that the home improvement stores seem to love so well. And they’ve given me much more than that. Before they came along, I worked weekend nights behind the bar and spent the daylight hours sleeping off the shifts. Looking back, it seems like I had plenty of time and money, and that I was actively squandering both. Fatherhood is in the process of teaching me many things — patience and understanding chief among them, and also the spiritual fruits of the large, ponderous moments that come with loving others more than you love yourself. I get more out of life as a father than I ever did before: I see more; I have experienced more; I understand more. And even more important: I realize how much I have yet to understand. Watching these kids of mine… how they love and fight and create and destroy… the relationships they’re forming with the world around them… the questions they ask and the little things I say that they choose to repeat…. It’s powerful stuff. And thinking about it deeply after midnight in a quiet house can bring a man to tears. I spent Father’s Day working on my lawn, and when my weed whacker sputtered out I bought a $6 part instead of a whole new unit, which any yardsmith can tell you is a difficult thing to do in a hardware store on Father’s Day. As the sun set, I seared the ribeyes in a hot, hot oven for a short, short time and stir-fried some vegetables while the steaks finished off. As per my one request of the day, we ate in front of the television, watching Ghostbusters. Just another Sunday. No big deal. But on a quiet night in a quiet house, an average Sunday can start to seem like something else, maybe something a bit more important than just another day. And perhaps you see a little more clearly that the gifts of Father’s Day come all year round.