When I think about Father’s Day I think about the Father’s Day I spent spreading crushed stone as a base for our brick patio on a hot and humid day a dozen years ago. Spreading crushed stone with a rake and shovel is soul-crushing work, and I was miserable. At moments like that I usually try to push harder to just get it done, but looking around that day I realized that I had a long way to go. No end in sight. The Bobcat I rented couldn’t do what needed to be done, I had to do it. Thoughts ran through my head about hiring someone to finish the job. Throw money at the problem and have it go away. Go have a drink and relax on the deck instead. But we pushed through those feelings and eventually finished the work. And for the last twelve years we’ve enjoyed countless birthday parties, fire pit conversations and casual strolls on that walk and patio and look back and laugh at that “low point” in our lives.
Like every father I’ll remember those moments when my kids were born forever. The marathon exhaustion of Ian being born combined with the mystery and newness of bringing a child into this world. The surprising and relative ease with which Emily introduced herself to the world (spoken from a father’s point of view). Those moments were milestones but just the start. Fatherhood is the grind that comes afterwards. The day-to-day commitment and sacrifices you make for your family. Being a father means showing up and doing the work. Maybe thats why I think of that particular day when I think of Father’s Day.
I think that’s the magic in It’s a Wonderful Life. Most parents can relate to it. George Bailey sacrifices his own wishes and desires for his family and the town he lives in. The knocks keep coming but ultimately he figures out that the things that kept saying “not yet” to him when he was just about to realize his dreams were the things that made his life worthwhile. That’s being a father. Sure I haven’t checked off a lot of items on the bucket list just yet, but I wouldn’t trade the time with my kids.
I have a few fathers in my life. My dad and step-father have both been central in my development and in the way I look at the world. I inherited my sarcasm and self-depreciation from my father, but also my love of family and willingness to sacrifice like George Bailey for the family. After raising four children my dad fostered and raised six more kids. He never complains about the struggle, he just pushes through. Being the 8th of 16 kids meant my dad was as middle child as you get. He taught me to appreciate the little things and to be patient with others. He’s better at that than I am.
My step-father has his own kids but made us a central part of his life. He sacrificed a lot in doing so. He’s more Harry Bailey; flying off aircraft carriers, athletic, traveling the world, a knowing gleam in his eye and quick with a great story. And there for you when it counts. Taking a walk in the woods with him was a Masters-level education. My love of adventure, gardening and willingness to jump right into it comes from him. And rum. He set me down the path with rum. Not just the drink but the process of making the drink and when and how to drink it. That’s a post for another day.
My father-in-law is the third father in my immediate circle. He’s the ultimate cheerleader for his kids and grandchildren. He knows everyone in the Merrimack Valley. He tells stories about basketball games from 30 years ago like they were yesterday. Kris says he never missed a game or track meet she was in growing up. While I can’t be at every game like him I’ve tried to be there as much as I can for my kids’ milestone events.
Now I’ve got adult children. My youngest is the age my mother was when she had me. But being a dad doesn’t stop just because my kids are largely independent. I expect the next twenty years will be filled with both milestone moments and knock you to your knees challenges. I’m hoping for more of the former.