The older I get, the smarter my father seems to get. Tim Russert

There are many different kinds of fathers.  Some are present, some are absent.  They can be fun, serious, engaged or aloof, each giving what they are capable or willing to give. This Fathers’ Day has led me to think about my own dad. My late father was quiet and thoughtful while sometimes allowing his mischievous side to show through.  There’s the story of my parents’ first wedding anniversary when he came home with a new garbage can as a gift for my mother, something she had requested, but hadn’t expected as an anniversary gift.  He had been a bachelor until he was 37, but you think he would know better. Five kids were watching with delight when he presented the shining bin. When she opened the can, tucked inside was a beautiful bouquet of long-stemmed red roses along with a giftwrapped bottle of perfume and Whitman’s Sampler box of chocolates!

My dad and me, 1956.

When my parents married, my mother already had five children from a former marriage.  There was no plan to have additional children, but then there was me and boy was my dad surprised!  As a young child, I was a daddy’s girl.  As I grew into a teenager, my contentious relationship with my mother strained my connection with my dad, but there was never a doubt in my mind that he loved me.  His presence and stability were attributes I took for granted.  Luckily the passing of years and my older siblings have helped me see him for the gift he was in my life.

My sisters have always been gushing fans of my father.  My sister Suzi while attending her first prenatal visit and documenting her health history, spent several minutes providing Dad’s health information before she remembered, “Oh, sorry.  That’s my step-dad.”  To her, he was simply Dad and I know he didn’t think of her as a stepchild. 

Jeanne has always been a tremendous champion of my father.  Having been without that wise, kind and reliable father presence in her life, she reveled in finally having someone who would discuss the world with her and listen to her opinions.

But it was my older brother who had the strongest effect on my latent appreciation of my father.  In his retirement, Danny developed a huge interest in genealogy.  During one visit, he shared an album he had put together.  In it he had an individual page for several of his closest relatives.  There was one for his birth father in which he simply said, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything.”  No drama, no harsh words, just moving on.  Then came the page on my dad, technically Danny’s stepfather.  There he talked about the enormous effect Dad had had on his life and how he still missed him.  I was used to my sisters’ effusive admiration, but my brother’s quiet comments spoke more loudly to me than my sisters’ vocal admiration ever had.  I am grateful to Danny for the shift in perspective he gave me.

Mr. Smith and his sons, 1985.

And I’m grateful that the older I get, the more I can appreciate all that fatherhood entails. For many years of young motherhood running the household and having primary care responsibilities of our three sons, fatherhood sometimes looked like the better gig.  Similar to my brother giving me the perspective to better appreciate my father, growing older has given me the perspective to appreciate the importance fathers can have in their children’s lives. As I watch my three sons as fathers, I have the vantage point of seeing all they bring to their children’s lives.  And every so often, I see my own father’s mischievous side manifested in my sons. Happy Fathers’ Day to all the fathers, father figures and stepfathers.  May we have the perspective to understand they often are worth their weight in gold. 

C’est la vie.

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