A Father’s Lessons

There are numerous cliché happenings in a boy’s life known to mark his entrance into “manhood.”

Eighteenth birthday. First beer with a parent. First utility bill in his name.

I’m an old man now. I can’t run at the top of my game with five hours of sleep anymore. My back hurts from time to time. I’m aware of the term “invincible” and know I’m not it. Still, I remember experiencing these clichés and thinking, “Wow – I’m a grownup.”

Then I’d do something childish, reminding me I wasn’t quite there yet.

NO, I WAS not a “man” more than a decade ago just because I was older than 18 and moved to another part of the country by myself for college. I wasn’t a man when I graduated or landed my first “real” job or moved into my first apartment without a roommate.

I realized I had become a man the first time Father’s Day rolled around and I was receiving gifts. That is when it hit me.

See, when you don’t have children, Father’s Day is exclusively about recognizing the men in your life who are father figures to you. You still have to do that after you have children, but it becomes a little different once you find yourself also on the receiving end of the deal. That’s when you know you’ve become a man.

Facebook is rampant with posts concerning racism, the Confederate Flag and references to shootings at a black church by a white man who hated them because they were black. One such post caught my eye today, Father’s Day. It had a photo of a baby with words to the effect of “babies are born without hate and bigotry; it’s our job to make sure they stay that way.”

One difference between a boy and a man is responsibility. Men have the responsibility of raising boys and girls in a manner that teaches them love and hate – a deed accomplished solely through actions, not words. The boys and girls, on Father’s Day, are expected to acknowledge their fathers’ efforts. That is why Father’s Day reminds me every year of my responsibility as a dad: I have tiny, developing brains attached to eyes that are watching me constantly, learning from how I lead far more than they’ll every learn from my verbal instructions.

Anyone can pay a bill. Anyone can have a good job, fancy house, flashy car or be known in the community as “respectable.” But not everyone can be a father. That’s the most difficult job of all, for it requires you to be “on the clock” 100 percent of the time. The pay, however, makes it worth the challenge.

I MIGHT BE GETTING too old for my own good, but today was the best Father’s Day I’ve ever had. My Kalista is definitely growing up and I look back on days when it was only the two of us in a small cottage between cotton fields in North Carolina with happiness, but I do not wish to return. Now I have my parents and sister’s three children in the same town. Now I have my Kalob, who makes me return to my home each night with the scent of baby lotion on my hands. Now I have a woman who makes me believe everything will be all right, no matter how it ends up.

Every one of them makes me delighted to be a dad.

When I was in college, my father got hung up on this idea for a mountain bike trip to Yellowstone, for which we’d live like savages and ditch anything electronic. I remember him setting a year. I remember him going over finances, stating it would be a few years after I graduated and started working, so I would be able to swing something like that. He presented it to me like it was a dying wish.

“You still want to do that?” I asked him a few years ago.

He just laughed. When the plan was discussed, I had no children. He wasn’t raising my sister’s three children. Financially, we could afford it today, but neither of us has the time to skip town for a month just to live out a Henry David Thoreau essay.

And he was okay with that.

I’ll admit, I was kind of shocked. It’s always seemed like my dad’s never getting the things he wants because he’s always making sacrifices for his family: jobs, cars, vacation destinations. Why wouldn’t he jump at the chance to finally do something outlandish he wanted to do? This bothered me for months.

In the time since, I’ve come to discover my answer. His family is his destination. He knows the reward is not in what we do, but with whom we do it. Happiness is only real when shared.

While I could be a little offended he turned down quality one-on-one time with his son, what might also be happening here is the teaching that never stops when you’re a parent: as a father, my children expect me to be there for them 100 percent of the time. Voluntarily dropping off the grid for a month would be terribly disappointing to those who count on me, well, 100 percent of the time. I should know better – and that’s probably why he laughed when I asked if he still wanted to go.

I am so thankful for the man whose actions I mimic 99 percent of the time.

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