My mom sent me a card for Father’s Day and it echoed, almost word for word, something I’d been thinking as I looked back on 9 months of fatherhood and 32 years of having a father of my own. She said we don’t always remember the specific things our parents did with us, but we remember our feelings about them.
I don’t know what my dad was doing 25 years ago on this day, but I know damn well he wasn’t ignoring me, or shirking his responsibility to his family. If I had to guess, he probably drove me to school, sent me off with our common exchange of “Learn lots” and Make money”, then came home from work a little after 5, poured himself a scotch, chatted with my mom, and turned his attention back to me. We’d play catch in the backyard, or maybe a golf game on the computer. He’d get down on the floor with me and play cars, or teach me wrestling moves that I could never seem to master. We’d have dinner as a family, maybe watch a movie or a TV show. He seemed to observe my interests and adopt them as his own, and I did the same. The specifics don’t really matter. I’m left–all these years later–with the sense that he was there for me, loved me, wanted me around…and that is true to this day.
One day, when I was somewhere between 5 and 10 years old, I was asked who I most admired. I said my dad. The follow-up question was: why? And my answer was: because he does what he says.
And that is also true to this day. He does what he says he will do. And I hope someday Declan will say that about me. He won’t remember all the times I was down on the floor, playing with him. Or the nights I was up soothing him back to sleep. Or the times Colleen and I racked our brains trying to figure out what makes him tick and how best to handle the challenges he throws our way. He won’t recall the things I tell him before school or after baseball games or recitals or school plays. Memories of road trips with dad will recede like the horizon. Skills I teach will become part of him, not easily traceable back to the source. If all goes well, I will go from random male human, to cool playmate, to idolized father, to sometimes overbearing and annoying and embarrassing dad to, one day, friend and fellow adult. The train is already headed down the tracks. There are no brakes.
What I hope is that, each day, whether in times of triumph or despair or boredom, he will have a sense that he is loved, and that I am there it support him in whatever way I can.
My mom wrote that “our kids may not see the significance of our efforts, but when we push love into them day after day, it leaves an imprint. And it never comes out.”
She’s right. My parents left an imprint of love. I would not be where I am today without them. I would not be the father or husband I am without them. Without that imprint. I don’t know what they did, day in and day out, but I know they did it with love in their hearts and a special kind of parental resolve and faith that the little things they did and said–unnoticed, without praise–were really big, important things that remain inside of me, 32 years later, like air. Invisible, but ever present. Thanks, guys.