Sunday, June 18, 2017

Father's Day

Column submitted to the local paper but is unlikely by this time to get printed:
At a time when my only daughter and first child was showing all the signs of entering the world, I grew nervous. I was going to be a "father," but what, exactly, was a "father" supposed to do? Since I had never been a father before, I needed pointers -- a "Fatherhood for Dummies" or something like that. As it happened, it was my younger sister, with two kids in her rearview mirror, who gave the most useful advice.

"Adam," she said with a wry and somewhat wicked gleam in her eye, "when it comes to being a parent, you can either read every book about child-rearing that was ever written or you can read none at all: Either way, you won't know squat."

Other fathers may be more sure of themselves as Father's Day (June 18) approaches and family members rush out to buy another pair or socks or fire up the barbecue. But I am still somewhat uncertain of my status. So many years after my three kids made themselves known, I could still use a "Fatherhood for Dummies." Twenty-odd years later, what do I know?

I know I love my kids, but I have a hard time taking credit for it. I did what I could, but based on the wonderful complexity of human beings that included my children, it doesn't feel that I have done quite enough. I love them, that's one positive point.

And the other positive point is that my love is based largely on the inconceivably hard work my wife did as the kids toddled, walked, ran, laughed, cried, hated math, expressed complex thoughts ... all of it. It beats the hell out of me how any mom could endure the crabby wails that can erupt towards the suppertime part of the day. Just about the time anyone needs a break -- and maybe a drink -- kids put their parents in high-alert, keep-'em-in-line mode.

My wife, Elizabeth did that. And Olivia, Angus and Ives, the children I love, benefited. Me, as the "father" -- honestly, I stood and stand in awe. I have done hard jobs in my life, but never anything as tough as that. We weren't rich enough to afford a nanny. We had no family nearby to pick up occasional kid duty. Elizabeth did it.

And from my point of view, Father's Day boils down to one thing: Mother's Day.

I worked a swing shift (4-12, 5-1 for example) and that meant Elizabeth, who worked part-time mornings, caught the evening-into-night shift. We had a couple of vacations, I think, but they weren't many. And I took all of the kids to a shooting range once when guns came into their consciousness. I volunteered one year at the local grade school. I tried to talk them out of a fear of math. And probably there were other adventures, but none of them convinced me I had entered the realm of some shining example of whatever it was to be a "father." Diapers, sure. Dishes, OK. But where was the crown? As far as I was concerned, Elizabeth wore it. Other men may see their father-dom as clear as day, but I'm still in the back of the pack.

I wish I had done more than make money, though without it we would have been hungry and the house would not have been ours. Still, Elizabeth did the serious stuff, the subtle stuff, the stuff that turned my children into people I love. This was not a world of perfection. It was not a flawless land. AND ... from where I sit, it turned out fine. My kids are in their twenties now and -- knock wood -- not one of them has robbed a bank.

That's Mothers Day for you. I wish I could have done more to relieve the strain I could sometimes see in Elizabeth's face, a strain she seldom complained about. How the hell did she do that?

It beats the socks off of me -- which may be one reason a new pair of socks, ugly or otherwise, may be just what I deserve on this Father's Day. It's a little late for "Fatherhood for Dummies."

I'm stuck with the dummy status.


  1. After a stressful day of step parenting i asked my mother how it's done. She looked at me as if she hadn't realized i was an idiot and said, "Why don't you know? You just have to accept that everything you're going to do is wrong and get on with it". I found this incredibly helpful. I had permission to screw up as long as i tried to fix it.

  2. A lovely tribute to your wife, Adam. I'd say you get high marks as a husband ... and as a father.