A friend of ours, who happens to be an excellent father, once remarked that he hated Father’s Day sermons. “Pastors always elevate moms to near sainthood on Mother’s Day,” he insisted, “but they beat up on dads on Father’s Day, chiding them for being workaholics, advising them to treat their wives better, telling them to spend more time with their kids.” Sadly, I’ve noticed that he’s right. Fathers deserve more credit.
I wish I would have told my dad more often how much I appreciated him. He lived a quiet, hardworking, honest life, raising my two sisters and me. Nothing earth-shattering or epic. The kind of life we’re all supposed to lead—loving God, doing right, living well. He died much too young from a heart attack at the age of 62. I miss him.
Dad had perfect Sunday School attendance growing up, and a string of gold pins to prove it. He used his magnificent bass voice to sing in the church choir where my grandmother played the piano. He was a much-loved only child, and I cannot imagine how difficult it must have been for my grandparents when he enlisted in the Navy during World War II at the age of eighteen. He rarely talked about his wartime service, so I know very little about it. He was assigned to a submarine chaser in the Pacific. He was a signal-man, sending and receiving Morse Code messages. He served most of his time in the Philippines. And forever after, he hated rice and the smell of the gunpowder from our cap pistols.
His family was all female—a wife and three daughters, living in a small, two bedroom house with one bathroom. Poor Dad was outnumbered. He used to joke that even our family dog was female. Yet he was good-natured about his suffering—and pretty quick at shaving on school mornings. He was a very big man and quite tall (I could always find him in a crowd) and I never doubted that he would protect me from harm. He was quiet, a man of few words, with a deep, hearty laugh. While he wasn’t openly affectionate, I always knew he loved me. I once decided to run away from home after fighting with my mother but only got as far as the front sidewalk when I met my father, coming home from work. “Don’t run away,” he said. “I’d miss you.” He shooed me back inside.
My father was a natural-born salesman who could probably sell ice cubes in the Arctic and sand in the Sahara—but mostly he sold Pepsi-Cola in the Catskills, where we lived. He worked hard all his life, and while he didn’t always like his bosses or the daily grind of work, he got up every day and did his job and brought home his paycheck without complaint. That’s what men in his era did. It’s how they showed their love.
But I think Dad’s real love was making music. He played the clarinet in a band before he married and was a fan of Benny Goodman and Big Band music. I would see his face light up when he got out his clarinet or alto saxophone, and he had a deep respect for my husband who is a professional musician. Dad had talent and probably could have turned professional with the right breaks. But men needed to get “real” jobs in those days, especially if they had families to support.
Which brings me to the robins. A pair of them have built a nest in the crab apple tree outside my office window. I don’t know how many babies are in that nest but I hear a loud chorus of cheeping every time one of the parents swoops in with another worm. All day long, the mama and papa birds take turns sitting on the nest and flying off for more worms—all day! Just watching them wears me out. Yet they continue doing it for hours on end for their babies’ sakes. That’s parenthood. That’s commitment. I watch the robins working tirelessly, getting the job done, raising children who will fly off and leave the nest one day—and I thank God for my steadfast, hardworking father. I miss you, Dad!