Father’s Day is this Sunday. We fathers need to thank our mothers for Fathers’ Day. Do you think anyone would have thought up a fathers’ day if there hadn’t been a mother’s day first? Certainly not. No one said, “Fathers are so wonderful we should have a special day commemorating them.” Instead it was more like, “You know, we have a mothers’ day. Maybe we should have a fathers’ day so that fathers don’t feel left out.” Yes, I think we fathers were just a second thought. But that’s okay. Fatherhood has always been a second-thought sort of thing. I mean even us fathers probably weren’t thinking of fatherhood when we were starting the process of making ourselves a father. You know the phrase spoken to children that goes, “when you were just a twinkle in your dad’s eye?” I think the process of becoming a father was more about the twinkle than the idea of “dad.” Then the consequences of the “twinkle” arrive and we scratch our heads and wonder if this might change things.
While my oldest son’s first child was still in the womb he asked me what I thought it meant to be a father. Why would he ask me that? Perhaps it’s because I am his father as well as the father of his seven siblings. The word “Dad” comes out of a lot of different mouths at our house and it’s all aimed at me. With my years of experience that has cultivated great wisdom I answered, “I . . . well, I don’t know.” Before I gave him that answer I actually did turn my thoughts inward to find something wonderful to say. I was surprised when I came up with nothing. I could have started with that poem, “Father: F is for friend, A is for . . .” and so on. Actually, I don’t that poem, but I realized that asking me what it was like to be a father was like asking me what it is like to bend my elbow. I know that just as being able to bend my elbow is a good thing so being a father is a good thing. There isn’t much more you can say about your own fatherhood. It’s too much in the present. All I know is that I take great wonder in my children and feel great responsibility for their welfare. That sums it up.
I think you have to turn to memories of your own dad to get more meaning out of the word “fatherhood.” And you can get a wide variety of meanings. I think men are more likely to fail at being good fathers than women are at being good mothers. I was lucky enough to have a good father. I don’t think he was any better at being a father than any other good father, but he was my father. You know what I mean. What were the things that he did that define what a good father is to me?
- He was honest. I don’t have any awkward memories of him doing anything dishonest and then winking at me.
- He was faithful. He had one woman and she was my mother. There were no devastating “Willy Loman” type revelations that suck the color out of the world. (See “Death of a Salesman.”)
- He was responsible – my dad was dedicated to working for the welfare of his family.
- Time – this is huge. Any of the previous three things set a strong foundation for a man’s fatherhood, but Dad’s who have time for their children make fatherhood shine. I only know this from my own experience with my dad. He took me (and the rest of the family) on endless number of cookouts where he did the cooking. He took me to Kiwanis club luncheons during my lunch break during school. He built igloos out of real blocks of snow in the back yard with me. I spent entire summers at various Scout camps that he either ran or had work at. He was the guide on the Salmon River for week-long high adventure Scout trips and often took me along when there was room. He was the foreman of a trail building crew and I spent summers working with him far back in the mountains of many different states. My birthday was during these summers and he somehow would always bake me a cake over an open fire. They tasted good, too. We live in different states now and he is old. He still has time for frequent, long chats with me on the phone and will still write me letters. Time is something my father always had for me.
My dad had his troubles. He had his dark days. But the four items above, especially the last one, forgive him of any weaknesses he had as a father. So perhaps “time” is at the center of fatherhood, of being a good dad. Traditionally speaking time is the thing that fathers have little of—at least for their families due to the fact that that they have been expected to work long hours to support their families. That would be why time is worth so much. It’s simple supply and demand economics. So you Dad’s out there who give time to your children, you are definitely investors of Warren Buffet caliber.