Commentary

Father’s Day brings memories flooding back

asnow@newsobserver.comJune 14, 2014 

A long time ago, I heard a sweet little story about a little boy looking through a telescope for the first time.

“What do you see?” his mother asked, whereupon the little fellow said, “I see God.”

“And what does he look like?” his mother continued.

“He looks a lot like Daddy,” the lad responded.

Mother has had her day. Now it’s Daddy’s moment.

For the most part, fathers are special. But let’s face it; it’s Mom who makes the world go round in most children’s lives. In the dark of night, a frightened child usually calls for Mom, rather than Daddy. As a camera zeroes in on fans at high school or college sports events, the printed signs usually read “Hi, Mom!”

I’ve read more than once that historically when men die in battle, the last word on their lips is “Mother.”

But back to fathers and fatherhood. Dads enjoy a special camaraderie that few mothers can claim. Male bonding unlike any other. It’s that bonding I missed with my own father, who was 64 when I was born. Dad identified with my older siblings but never with me. He never held me, never told me he loved me.

His reluctance to show affection was not so abnormal for parents of my generation. A friend once told me that he heard his father say “I love you” only one time.

As a little boy, he was playing in the yard when his father accidentally ran him down with a riding lawn mower, breaking his arm.

The distraught father swooped him up in his arms and blurted, “I love you! I love you!”

“It was wonderful!” the friend said. “Those words were well worth the pain.”

My father was a good man, a gentle man. He was never, ever abusive, either in word or action toward his children.

I can’t imagine anything much more traumatic or tragic for a child than growing up with an abusive father. A prime example of one is writer Pat Conroy’s father, so powerfully described in his book, “The Death of Santini,” which I’ve just finished rereading.

In his book of some years back, comedian Louie Anderson depicts in an unforgettably poignant way the pain of living with an abusive, alcoholic father. His emotional scars have persisted throughout his life. The book, “Dear Dad: Letters from an Adult Child” is a collection of bittersweet letters written to his father after the father’s death.

He remembers how his father came home drunk and, for no apparent reason, called out his mild-mannered next-door neighbor, Mr. Wilson, and beat him up.

Young Anderson would pray to himself. “Please, Mr. Wilson, don’t let him beat you up again. I can’t face your kids anymore, looking at me as if it’s my fault, like I’m the one who beat you up.”

One of the few times Anderson put his arms around his Dad was when he was dying of cancer, and Anderson helped him to the bathroom.

“There were a thousand and more things to say, but nothing seemed important enough,” he wrote. “Just holding you up, I knew, was enough. It was all I ever wanted ... and as I held you, I remember thinking, ‘I won’t let you down, Dad. I won’t let you down.’ 

Anderson’s last letter comes from the cemetery where he was visiting his father’s grave.

“I realize ... what I’ve been looking for all this time. I wanted to be with you. And now I always will be. Oh, yeah, there’s one more thing I haven’t said but want to. And that one thing is, ‘ I love you.’ 

I think you dads out there will agree that parenting is a fearsome challenge and that fathers, like mothers, play a specific but different role in molding a child. What an awesome responsibility, unlike any other.

We may not, as our finished work goes his or her way, look a little like God at the end of the telescope. But if we’ve done our best, there’s little cause for second guessing or guilt.

On this Father’s Day, I treasure the memory of a Father’s Day card received in the long ago from two little girls who wrote, “Daddy, you’re a Ten!”

Snow: 919-836-5636 or asnow@newsobserver.com

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