Saturday, 15 June 2019

Kudos for Pater Familias

It's Saturday morning and I have a to-do list. But before I can get out the door, two little feet enter, attached to granddaughter Grace. She’s come to “help” Daddy, who is picking up things at our house.

“Hi Oma,”she says cheerfully. “I brought my Elsa doll along so we can play.” And somehow my to-do list evaporates. I'm a sucker for 4-year olds.

And so for the next half hour we do things together. She draws a picture of Oma, and writes my name all by herself.

It's added to the fridge door, along with the photos of good times.

 We string necklaces together. We pick up some spilled screws with a magnet. We carry things into the car. Truly, it's fun. And we didn’t even play with Elsa.

Then I realize that tomorrow is Father's Day, and if my husband had not become a father, and if our son had not become a father, I wouldn't be having this delightful time. I know that Father’s Day is a commercial construct, and expectations of what a father should be are absurdly unrealistic in the commercial world. Still, I’d like to honour fathers – and all the men who have been like fathers to us. It doesn’t take a lot of shuffling through the memory bank to come up with some visual images of times which may have seemed quite ordinary, but have left a lasting impression. .

The first is not a memory, but a time captured in a photo and passed on as a family story. I am a very active toddler, and we are immigrating. The weather is bad, and my mother is stuck in her bunk, terribly seasick. So it’s dad who chases after me, who changes my diapers. It’s not a role he’s been taught, and his efforts are clumsy enough to make my sick mother laugh, but he does it.

Then, I am about 6 years old, exploring the countryside with dad. He takes my sister and me over to a fence. One by one, he lifts us to his shoulders so we can see over the hedgerow. There’s a lake behind it, and – oh, wow! – in the middle of the lake floats a log with turtles sunbathing on it. It’s the beginning of my love for nature. Later, I am a teenager, growing a small garden as a high school science project. Patiently, he stands beside me, showing me how to plant the beans, hill the potatoes, thin the beets, and now I still hear my dad’s voice when I am working in the garden. Dad was always there ... sometimes he embarrassed us, sometimes he annoyed us, sometimes he frustrated us – fathers do that! –  but he was there. To paraphrase a common meme, 90% of caring is just showing up.

Many years later, the Resident Sweetie is loading the car. He’s taking our sons, aged 7 and 5, one of whom has just conquered bedwetting, camping for the weekend. No moms allowed. They return Sunday evening, grubby and sunburnt, wet sleeping bag in tow, and full of stories. “Dad made the best supper,” exclaims the oldest. And it was...ta da ...Hamburger Helper! (They still like it, I think.)

He participates in the potty-training, coaches their soccer teams, becomes “Mr. Mom” when I am out of town, takes them for hikes, attends the father-child event at school. 

He works hard at a job that’s not always fun, to supply their needs. He hugs and holds and dries tears.

He, and all fathers like him, are the unsung heroes who don’t appear in the commercials, but do appear in their childrens' lives in ordinary ways, steadfast and committed. And are still there for them whenever they need dad, even though they are all grown up.

And now I watch our three sons parent our 7 beautiful grandchildren. Guess what they’re doing? They’re taking them for walks to discover nature. They’re in on the potty training, they’re helping their children pick out gifts for mom on Mother’s Day, changing wet bed sheets, cooking Hamburger Helper dinners, being “Mr. Mom” when their wives are out of town, coaching soccer,

reading them stories

accompanying field trips, showing them how to create something beautiful, working hard to give them a secure childhood, and best of all, bringing their children to visit Oma and Opa on a regular basis so we can play and laugh and visit with them.

Here’s to the men in our lives – not just the dads, but also the grandparents, uncles, friends, mentors, in-laws, spouses, sons and more – who showed up when it counted, who have taught us, not in grandiose gestures, but in everyday actions, by word and example, what it means to be a father.

Thank you, thank you, thank you!

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