When I was growing up, the shadow of the Vietnam War loomed largely over our home. Had my mother allowed it, it would have looked like one of those cartoon rain clouds stuck above a characters head, forever raining on its head.
But she didn’t. My dad was a Vietnam Vet who went into the war a perfectly happy man and good husband. The flip side for him, unfortunately, was a much different portrait. He finally left my mother and I when I was in about the third grade–and good riddance.
So Father’s Day was never high on my list. Why would I hold in regard the stranger who never called on my birthday or Christmas; didn’t pay child support or insurance; didn’t comfort my mother when I called from the emergency room in eighth grade following a car wreck coming home from the fair with friends; who lurked in the shadows and left homemade artistic gifts in the mailbox that scared the shit out of me, just knowing he was out there? I went to daycare until middle school so I didn’t have to be a latchkey kid (as they called us back in the day) and possibly know that today was the day he was going to leave something in the mailbox … and be waiting for me. I still sleep with a nightlight.
I’m 38, and for 25 of my years I’ve given my mother a Father’s Day card or gift. Because she did it all. Granted, we had a very basic yard that a neighborhood kid cut on the regular, and we couldn’t have a dog because that would mean we’d have to go outside at night, but our lives were really good. I never wanted for anything I needed, even though money was paycheck-to-paycheck and there weren’t extras. I got most of what I wanted because I was patient (and there was lay away).
And I had 100% of her attention.
But what I had most of all was a strong woman who did not fall apart and cry at the drop of a hat, who kept a job that she retired from six years ago. She wasn’t able to be the room mom or go on field trips; she took one vacation day each school year so she could go to lunch with me, propelling me to the front of the lunch line and making me the HMFIC. She made cupcakes in the middle of the night when snacks were needed; she participated in the phone tree after work; she colored every project I had, sitting next to me at the kitchen table, listening to me chatter about my day and smiling. She was there, and that was all I needed.
It wasn’t until I met my husband and got married that I had a “father” in my life, that of my father-in-law. He was an odd fella, a genius scientist but a goofy regular guy. He loved his family, treated his wife like the queen, and was a good provider for his children. He was kind and engaging. And he was a great blueprint for my husband on what a good father should be.
Thirteen years ago, when our son was born, I changed my outlook on fathers all together. My husband and I have been inseparable best friends since our first date; the fates knew what they were doing when they threw us together. But seeing him holding our little peanut of a six and three-quarters pound baby in the palm of one hand, holding him as carefully as if he were made out of the finest crystal, and pressing sweet kisses on his head … sigh. That was all she wrote for me.
My husband’s a great father. Sure, he irritates the hell out of me sometimes and I want to pinch his head off, praying mantis-style … but I get over it in about ten minutes. He’s fun and adventurous, chases our son with the water hose, taught him to kayak and play golf, plows unapologetically through the kids in the neighborhood in roller hockey, teaches him all about codes and cyphers (I live with the technology Gestapo and his genius offspring), and provides a grand example of how to be a polite, respectful, protective young man.
I say again: he’s a great father. He’s the father I secretly wished and prayed for in the dark, and I couldn’t be more thankful and richly rewarded that he was given to me for our son. Wow, seriously, he was worth the wait.
One final thought: Father’s Day, like Mother’s Day and every other Hallmark-created holiday should last more than just its namesake day … and it does at our house. But this year will go down in history for its awesome Father’s Day gifts. My mom will be speechless with hers, and my husband will weep with joy. I figure our son and I are in like Flint for a long time. I’m just saying …
(And PS, Matt … if you’re reading this … Peyton would love to have a catch tonight.)