For many years, Father’s day was an…uncomfortable holiday for me. My dad left our family when I was 6 years old, and was never really in my childhood, except for the occasional times of us going to where he worked to pick up the few dollars he was willing to give us. He rarely paid support and my mom worked her tail off going to school full time to get her nursing degree in addition to being a cashier at a grocery store to keep food on the table. I honestly don’t know how she did it. The woman didn’t sleep for over two years. Mother’s Day was huge, but Father’s Day, well, not so much.
Don’t start crying for me. I had no lack of father figures in my life. My grandfather was a rock after my dad disappeared—he was always there lending a hand, bringing us groceries, picking up the slack Dad left behind. Mom kept us in church, and the men there showed me how real fathers behaved. Loving, gentle men who tousled my hair and gave me a hug, who came to our house to fix broken pipes or repair appliances or who pressed a few dollars in my mother’s hand outside the church when they knew the budget wasn’t going to stretch far enough. One man in particular was Don Mitchell—a kind fellow who had a delightful sense of humor, was a gifted photographer, and worked hard to take care of his family.
Don was married to my mother’s dear friend, who remains one of my dearest friends to this day. I used to watch how he interacted with his sons, loving and yet firm. You could tell he would walk across fire for his boys, and I wished with all my heart that he could be my dad. When he and his kids crossed swords as all kids and parents are wont to do, I had to bite my tongue to keep from scolding his sons. “He’s here,” I wanted to tell them. “He loves you, he wants what’s best for you. He’s fighting for you, how can you not see that?” Of course they didn’t see it then, they were young and self-involved, but they saw it later and always seemed to enjoy a close relationship with their dad as adults.
I remember when I was about 11 years old, the Girl Scouts had a Father-Daughter Sweetheart dance (yes, I was a Girl Scout for a very brief time, until I realized it meant I had to go out in the woods and deal with spiders and snakes and other icky stuff). I wanted to go so badly, but I knew asking my own father was a pointless exercise and my grandfather, as dear as he was, wasn’t interested in dancing with a little girl. Mom suggested I ask Don, so I screwed up my courage and invited him. He agreed and I got to wear a new dress and nylon stockings for the very first time. Don brought me a little corsage and we went to the dance, which was held in the junior high school gym. I remember every moment of the evening—I had a dad, just like all the other girls and he danced with me in that hot sweaty gym. He treated me with such loving kindness that I felt like a cherished child instead of an abandoned one.
Don became the benchmark—and although I met Husband early in my life, I knew immediately that he would be a wonderful father to the children I hoped to have. We only got one, but Husband is a remarkable dad. He fell in love with Son the moment he saw him and the love affair continues to this day. When they are together, the connection between them shines. I have so many fun and terrific stories about Son growing up and I share them here all the time, but for Father’s Day, here’s one of my favorite Husband/Son moments.
Son was around 5 or 6 years old, he followed Husband around like a puppy, always wanting to do Daddy stuff with him. Husband obliged, always ready to use any moment as a teaching/bonding time. One Saturday, he was changing the oil on the car and the two of them were in the garage. I heard them talking with Husband patiently explaining the process to the kid and answering his endless questions. They had the radio turned on to the local NPR station (Husband is a huge fan of NPR and classical music and opera). It happened that the station was playing a performance of Mozart’s Don Giovanni. When I peeked out into the garage, there they were—two pairs of legs sticking out from under the car—Husband’s adult jeans-clad ones next to Son’s little skinny, knobby-kneed ones.They were both lying on their backs, changing the oil and singing with the baritone at the top of their lungs, “Ah Patron, Ah, Patron…” I’d have killed for a video camera. It was one of the most touching moments in the raising of Son.
I admit it, I’m a sucker for a great dad—I love men who are in love with their kids. When I see I father touch his child fondly or pick them up to give them a hug or kneel beside them to offer soothing words, I melt. So watching Son with our new grandson has been absolute heaven because he’s already in love. When he holds that baby in his arms, the look in his eyes is the exact same look his own father had the first time he saw Son—unadulterated awe and a love so pure, it glows. What joy!