Updated: Jun 19, 2021
A father is neither an anchor to hold us back, or a sail to take us there, but a guiding light to show us the way. - Unknown
I read a fact the other day that surprised me; it stated that Father’s Day wasn’t a holiday until 1972 when President Richard Nixon signed a bill introducing it into our American Hallmark world. June and necktie sales haven’t been quite the same since then.
Mother’s Day, on the other hand has been around since the 1920’s I believe. This isn’t surprising, considering women sacrifice our bodies, sanity and deep sleep for not only nine months, but the rest of our lives once our children are born. I read a quote by Elizabeth Stone that summed motherhood up quite well, “Deciding to have a child is like deciding to walk around with your heart outside of your body for the rest of your life."
But being a father – well that’s a whole different story. You may wonder how I know this because I’m not a father, I am a mother. But I’m not just any mother, you see. I’m a mother who was privileged enough to have the most amazing father, and I’m a mother who was fortunate enough to share 20 years of my life with the most incredible father to my children. In my mind, that makes me an expert on fathers.
A good father is a man who is a great teacher. Not the kind who herds children into a classroom and cracks open textbooks, but the kind of teacher who a child can closely observe or watch from afar and just learn from. Whether it’s how to throw a curve ball, how to bait a hook, how to work a room, or how to stand up for what he or she believes in - a good father will make certain his son or daughter knows these things in a timely fashion, before the world requires a first pitch or conviction of his child’s beliefs.
A good father raises children who knows they are loved. It’s not unusual to run into someone who describes his father as a man who didn’t express his love. “My father never told me he loved me,” he might say. But if you sit down and really get into the nuances of his father’s character, you might learn that he always tucked him in at night, never missed a game or track meet in high school, or a weekly phone call once he moved away. This is a father who may not have verbalized love with a three-word phrase, but he certainly lived and showed love in unspoken ways. The challenge for us as children sometimes is to weigh the value of three little words versus 10,000 huge acts, and I know which one I would choose.
A good father knows how to develop character in his children. For a man to become a father it takes only a few biological minutes; but for a man to develop character in his children, it takes a lifetime of learning and watching. With that being said, a good father doesn’t surrender the character development of his child to the babysitter, the school, the media, or their peer group. He takes an active role in knowing that he wants his son or daughter to be honest, respectful and loving and good. He understands that the reason “things aren’t the way they used to be” is because so many parents have just given up, and so he refuses to do so. And although there are many nights that he may be exhausted and beat up and ready for his chair, a cold drink and some "me time" at the end of the day, he musters up the energy to spend time with his child, knowing that 60 minutes of wasted time will never replace the impact of 60 minutes with dad - the man who will be leaving behind his memories, along with his legacy of love.
They say losing a father is one of the top 10 fears for men. When this happens, they begin to face their own mortality, and their own perspective on what being a father begins to shift. From my experience, for mothers this happens the day a child is born. At that moment we often develop an irrational fear of losing someone we love more than our own life. But for men, it’s just different. Absent the experience of carrying a watermelon-sized lump of love around inside of them like moms do, they have to learn to form a bond with their son or daughter after it makes a messy, loud, beautiful appearance in the world.
From the start of life, fathers have to make a real effort, and work to build a bridge and a relationship with these new little people in their life. Those who are lucky enough to have fathers who are good bridge and relationship builders are the ones who fear life without dad just a little more, because they truly understand the impact of the bond and love they share.
On this 49th anniversary of Father's Day, I challenge you to reach out to your dad this Father’s Day and thank him. Don’t just give him the cliché three word wish, “Happy Father’s Day.” Rather, give him something more fitting that he deserves and something he can sink his teeth and heart into. Tell him why you are you happy he's your dad. Is there a special memory that you revisit that reminds you of the impact he's had on your life? What is the real influence your dad has had on your character? Is it your passion for science or sports? Is it your love of nature? Maybe you simply have his laugh, and that in itself makes you happy. Whatever it is, the way you turned out was no accident. And there is nothing more amazing, miraculous, or beautiful than a father hearing something so meaningful.
This Father’s Day, take the road less traveled in your search for the perfect gift. Skip the Amazon shipping, the Home Depot gift card, and the grill set that he can live without. Instead, give your dad the best gift of all – your genuine words of love and appreciation that will surely make a difference. Be vulnerable and put yourself out there like he did for you over the years. The reward for both of you will be profound, and the impact on his day and his heart will be bigger than any gift you ever could offer. "Love is, above all, the gift of oneself." - Bertrand Russell.
Shelli Netko (c) 2009, updated 2021