My First Father’s Day as First Father

This is my first one of these contributions as a Yahoo! contributor. I could’ve probably picked a happier subject, but then again, maybe not.

Dad’s not around this year for Father’s Day. Hasn’t been around since September of last year. What a horrible year it’s been. There’s not a day, not a freaking hour that I don’t have the reality of him not being here hammering down on me. Even in happy times, that reality beats on my back. Last year, like just about every year for the last decade or so, my wife and I met the folks at Red Lobster for Father’s Day dinner. Dad loved popcorn shrimp. Last year, he didn’t eat nearly as much as he normally would. I noticed it but made myself not really notice. Dad was getting old and frail and he took a lot more naps then he had in the past. I actually found myself going over on Sundays to watch the races but knowing he and I would both end up sleeping through the better part of the Sprint Cup race. Sometimes, I’d go just for the nap on the couch. It was so great that he derived so much happiness from my company. I’d long ago ceased trying to win Dad’s approval because I had secured it long ago.

Even after I left home to go to college I would carry my troubles to Dad, if for no other reason to sound off to him. He always had an answer. If he didn’t know the answer he’d tell me he didn’t know, but we’d talk about it until we decided how I should handle it.

I recall back in 1985 I’d graduated from college and gotten a job in Detroit but was home for some time in the summer. It was just about time to get a new car. I knew enough to take Dad with me to negotiate, because I was 22 and a pushover. He negotiated one salesman down by almost 30% on a Toyota MR2 and turned around and left because the salesman wouldn’t come down by another $250. I was embarrassed because the salesman really had done all he could possibly do, but was also so in awe of Dad because he had a price in his head that he considered “worth it” and wasn’t coming off that price. I drove my Chevette for another year. I was MISERABLE, but I was so impressed with Dad’s resolve and wanted to be just like him.

He stood best man at my first wedding. It was common to have your Dad do that in my family. I couldn’t possibly think of anyone else I’d rather have had. He was so proud and so handsome in his Tux. I was glad he was there. When I told him right before the wedding that I really didn’t want to get married, he throught I was joking but later grieved for not giving me bus fare and pushing me out the back door. We laughed about that for years. My second wedding was less stressful and I was just glad he and Mom could make it out to Oklahoma to be there. I taught him how to dance. For my 3rd wedding, my new wife and I just eloped and I promised him I wouldn’t screw this one up. As with the other 2 weddings, Dad was just happy I was with someone who loved me, and he really loved the girl who became my 3rd (and final) wife.

When my daughter was born in 1990, he and Mom were the first people outside of the doctors, my wife, and me to see her. Come to think of it, he had been the first person I told when my wife and I became pregnant. As he always did in moments like this, he welled up and cried.

Dad was a crier. If something touched him, tears would roll down his cheeks. As he got older, he had more and more moments where he’d cry for sheer joy in moments of happiness and in empathy when something bad happened to those around him. I can’t explain it, but it was never out of place. Real men cried, because that’s what my Dad did.

Dad could always make me laugh. Even as a young child I knew Dad could always make me laugh. If I was down or just wanted to laugh I’d follow him around and his natural performer would come out and he’d have me laughing so hard I couldn’t breathe in no time. He had that gift with lots of people. He never met anyone who didn’t like him.

All my girlfirends through high school and college simply loved him. He would go to movies with me and my girlfriends from time to time, if it was a movie he thought he might like. He was always invited. He went with me to see “Jaws” and it ruined the ocean for both of us for years. He took me to see “The Towering Inferno” and swears I got so engrossed in the movie that I ate all the popcorn and then ate the box. I only chewed the edges of the box. We went to see just about every new Kevin Costner movie, for some reason. Dad loved “Bull Durham”, “Field Of Dreams”, and “Dances With Wolves”. “JFK” cured both of us of Kevin Costner.

I’m not near the father my Dad was. I tried, but life had other plans and challenges for me. My kids know I love them and I’m there for them no matter what, but they aren’t sure why, other than they both knew and loved my Dad and they know I’m his son. My daughter and I had a long series of estrangements after my first wife and I split up. After 6 years of estrangement, she came to stay with me for 3 weeks in the summer of 2007 and she couldn’t believe how much like “family” we were even after so long apart. My Dad and Mom taught me about family. Family just needs your presence. Just be there and everything that comes after can be handled.

My Dad absolutely loved his grandkids. They loved him a lot, too.

Now as Father’s Day approaches, and I plan to spend some time sitting beside his final resting place instead of on the couch watching a race with him I know there will be tears at his passing; at his absense made all the more stark by the emptiness of his chair at home and Mom’s courage in carrying on. But there will be much more than that. Dad’s gone, but he built lives for me and my family and we’re all so much luckier to have had him in our lives than we could have been otherwise. My wife and mom and I will get together and we’ll remember the good times and the laughter and the popcorn shrimp of many a Father’s Day past. I’ll sit in his spot on the couch and maybe, just maybe (if I’m lucky) I’ll catch a nap just like I did last year.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad! Miss You!

K