Confession time: I stink as an adult.
Oh, my wife Susan will deny that this is so, but this is more some sort of spousal support than a denial of the reality that I just hate to put on the big boy pants. Examples abound: she maintains the check book (I also have a fear of banks, or more specifically bank tellers), she does 99% of the laundry (I can fold a pair of jeans, but everything else is a mystery), I never know where exactly I am driving to, I still throw occasional temper-tantrums (ask my students or better yet my own children), and I often find both yard work and cooking dinners absolutely overwhelming. See what I mean? I stink.
Perhaps the real issue is the measuring stick that I use. Growing up I naturally assumed that I would become the man I perceived my father to be; that my children would see me as I saw my dad. I saw him wise as Solomon, brilliant as Einstein, with the work ethic of an Amish farmer, funny as Dick van Dyke, who always had time for a game of catch or to hear about my day. I have told anyone that will listen that “Even if he weren’t my father, I would STILL think he is one of the greatest men I have ever known.” And here is what amazes me today at age 43: looking back, that idealized dad described above—the dad seen through the eyes of a child, the dad that could never be an honest measure of them man—well, the incredible thing is that I don’t think that I was far off as child. I look with adult eyes now, but my opinion has not changed.
Do my kids look at me and see the same things I saw in my dad? I had always hoped so; it seemed like the natural order of things, like grizzly bears eating Canadians (shout out here to Berkley Breathed and the Red Ranger). But here’s the deal. I’m not my dad. Instead I am stuck in this odd twilight zone experience of trying to live up to the legacy while at the same time, being true to me. I have a different personality with different gifts and different faults.
So today I was in Richmond, visiting Mike with Chloe, Max, and Susan. Mike has a new place and there’s a tennis court and four of us hit the ball around. After we called it quits and were walking off, Chloe says to me “Thanks, Dad, for playing tennis with me.” That’s about all I need on Father’s Day. On the way home tonight, I got to pick the music on Sirius FM the whole way home and I sang nearly the entire time. And as my favorite songs played, I could hear Chloe or Max occasionally join in. Just doesn’t get much better than that. And then, after a long time of feeling a weight, I officially let myself off the hook. I don’t need to be my dad, I just need to be me and be with my children.
So here’s what any dad needs to be reminded of, today of all days: be the very best dad you can be. Day in and day out. You’ll make mistakes and pay for them. You won’t be perfect and you’ll occasionally need to apologize to your children for major screw ups. Assimilate the best of what you can from fathers around you (including yours) and do your best. Maybe your dad flew kites with you, but it’s not your thing. Ok. Replace it with something else. But be there for them, be present in their lives, and love them. How you love them is uniquely up to you. Just love them. That’s the real lesson my dad gave me.
Happy Father’s Day to the Big Guy.