Before I start writing this next piece, I want to take a moment to thank all of you who have responded with such kindness and encouragement to my last entry. I’m happy to report that the clouds have lifted from my horizon, and the opportunity to do something for another has again proved to be the best medicine for my temporary melancholy. Knowing that there are so many willing to offer comfort and hope in times of need has also been excellent medicine. Again, my gratitude to you all.
I knew that Father’s Day was a relatively recent invention, but I hadn’t appreciated just how much until a little research uncovered the following facts: The idea is credited to Sonora Dodd, who on hearing a sermon on Mother’s day in 1909 wanted a special day to honor her father, a Civil War veteran who raised his children while working as a single parent. It wasn’t until 1966 that President Lyndon Johnson signed a presidential proclamation declaring the third Sunday of June as Father’s Day, and not until 1972 that President Richard Nixon signed the law which made this a permanent day of celebration.
Anne Sexton wrote in one of her books, “It doesn’t matter who my father was; it matters who I remember he was.” I doubt any of us have a very objective assessment of our fathers. As young children, we need them to be strong, protective figures of power in our lives. As adults, we all struggle to reassemble our childhood vision with the necessarily flawed (but at least in my case, always loving) man looking back at us, against whose authority we need to assert our own individual identities.
Fatherhood has gotten the short shrift in our society, and perhaps that is because the role that our culture had created for fathers was not always a very sympathetic one. The stern, often cold, and authoritarian figures depicted in Victorian times mixed with the more recent portraits of men siring then abandoning their offspring may in part be responsible for this phenomenon. I agree that this day ought to celebrate not each man who managed to procreate, but those who have actually done their best at being good fathers.
I’ve written well deserved tributes to my father in this Space before, and I miss his presence in my life on this day, along with the other 364 in the year. Being a father myself now, I have gained a much deeper respect for how difficult and challenging this role can be, as well as how rewarding. I confess that I’ve fallen short on many of the skills fathers are expected to pass on to their sons. My athletic pretensions have been limited, and I’m grateful that my son at least has learned to like hiking and skiing with me. I don’t know how to fix cars, track a deer, or perform home repair without requiring medical attention. Needless to say, my son has been left bereft in these departments. I’m less than enthused about facing danger, and work hard at avoiding confrontation. I’m not the ideal role model of the dads I used to see depicted in Boy’s Life. Despite my many shortcomings, I somehow managed to produce a son who to all appearances has a strong moral core and a kind heart, though he probably would not rate high on aggression, competitiveness or some of the other “manly” traits. I can pride myself on the fact that he’s become independent, self supporting, and happy with the choices he’s made in his life. In this respect, I can answer the question that I asked on this day, “What makes a good father?” My son.