My son was born on the first day of summer in the new millennium, 10 years ago today. I know the pedants will tell you the millennium started with 2001, but Y2K had all the zeros and in the end, most of us will remember that as the big one. Today is the second time his birthday has hit on Father’s Day – it happened in 2004, and won’t happen again until I can buy him a beer. You know, legally.
Without further ado, happy birthday to Number One Son!
The buying of beer notwithstanding, I am widely regarded as a good father. I’m involved in the lives of my children, and have been since I cut their umbilical cords when each was born. I do not manage their lives – far from it – but I’m a fairly active dad, dropping them off and sometimes picking them up from school, talking to their teachers, coordinating the occasional play date. I read to them when they were smaller, and while the girls still like to hear me read a story, these days more often than not I just recommend books to them. One of my proudest moments came a few months ago when our eldest finished a book and told me I should read it, since she was sure it was the kind of thing I’d like – and she was dead right. (Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart, for those of you scoring at home.)
And I’m sure I’m doing OK as a dad, because I check in with the kids periodically. “Kid,” I ask them each, “are you having a good childhood?” So far, all three of them have responded with two thumbs up, if not glowing endorsements.
But as a good and involved father, I have to say I had a terrific example. It’s not like I’m making this stuff up on the fly – the specifics, perhaps, just as a good poet will write a good sonnet – but the format of the sonnet I learned. My father taught me many things about being a dad, without really meaning to, I’m sure, just as I’m teaching my kids without laying out a specific course of study. Someone asked me recently if my father was the kind of dad who was “always there for you.” It’s an odd question to me, not one with a yes or no answer. Yes, he was always available to ask a question or solve a problem, as long as the problem in question could wait until he got home.
For the record, I’m giggling a bit as I write this because I know my folks will read it. (Sometimes it’s hard not to shout “Hi Mom and Dad!” when the cameras roll past you…)
One of the most important lessons I learned from him was that you get up and go to work. Now that I’ve been in a professional environment for half my life, I realize that there must have been days when he didn’t feel like going to work, either under the weather or hungover or filled with existential ennui or just having the kind of eye trouble that you get on a nice summer day when you just can’t see going to the office. But he went, and he made it look easy, and if he had a bad day we didn’t see it.
And that’s the other important thing I learned from my father, that I’ll share with you on this Father’s Day – it’s always easier if you’re cheerful and friendly about it. Doesn’t matter what it is, it will be easier if you’re good natured about it. My dad had an epiphany of sorts not too many years ago, and the interesting thing isn’t that he had it; it’s that he’s so used to seeing the good side of everything and everyone that it took more than 50 years for him to see it. Driving with my mother in the car, and both of them thinking quietly for a while, out of the blue he exclaimed, “You know, there’s really a lot a jerks and assholes in the world.”
My mother, not missing a beat, looked him straight in the eye and said, “Your son is going to be so proud of you!”
And I am.
Happy Father’s Day to my father, and to all of yours!