It doesn’t matter who my father was; it matters who I remember he was. —Anne Sexton
y daddy can pick up six cars with his pinky.”
“Well…my daddy can pick up Jupiter with one finger.”
My daughter and a friend were having an impassioned discussion about whose dad is stronger until they were offered a chocolate malt and their minds wandered toward the ice cream, which is, I believe, a natural progression. The subject was quickly dropped and a winner was never declared.
The girls were on a post-Father’s Day high and their daddies were foremost on their minds. That’s the value of Father’s Day. It reminds us to remember, because on the off days that we’re not pitting our own family members against someone else’s, it’s likely that we’ll overlook them.
The same goes for other holidays like Mother’s Day, Grandparents Day, and even the king of take-it-or-leave-it holidays, Valentine’s Day.
(Which, by the way, I take. I know, I know, it’s a conspiracy by FTD and Russell Stover to take our money. We’re going to spend it anyway and if it weren’t for the guilt-based holidays, we would just blow it on ourselves. So, instead of taking a stand against commercialization, buy the $3 card. It might just go a long way.)
This month, Father’s Day came and went quickly. My girls hung out with their dad and he and his dad helped me get my overheated car back to town before my engine blew. It was appreciated time, and well spent with the dads in our lives.
Except mine. I didn’t think about my own dad.
It was late into the night before I realized it. What kind of daughter did that make me?
I hadn’t looked at his picture, displayed right in my line of sight in the dining room, as I made my way through the day. The clock he gave me, the handcrafted one the one I use all day, every day, didn’t spark a thought. I was oblivious to the calendar I walked by a dozen times, which would have reminded me that this is the 11th Father’s Day without him.
After beating myself with a guilt-stick all night for forgetting, I put it into perspective: Yes, it was Father’s Day, but it was just one day.
I’m the youngest of eight and if we were asked what reminds us of Dad, we would have as many different answers. He was a father to us all but a dad to each one of us. By the time I was a 13, the sibling age gap basically made me an only child. The others were out on their own, leaving just me at home. Mom worked second shift and Dad set one main rule: get home before your mother does. And I did—most of the time.
As a typical daughter, about half of what he told me initially registered. I heard everything he said, but gave attention to what I felt was relevant at the time. The other half would sink in eventually. Just not necessarily on Father’s Day, which I proved this year. Instead, they show up in their own time.
Things like gumbo and Louis Rukeyser, a couple things that remind me of my Dad.
My dad spent a lot of time concocting things over the stove, most often a revolutionary gumbo. As a rule, I wasn’t brave enough to try them. But for the Super Bowl last February, I made my first big pot of Cajun gumbo, loaded with spicy sausage and cayenne pepper. Dad would have loved it.
As for Louis Rukeyser, all I knew was that Dad had his books and a tendency to often drop his name in conversations. Years later, I googled Louis Rukeyser. He was an expert in investing and finances. I read his bio and skimmed through his website. Dad would have said, “It’s about time.”
My dad was a good person, a great dad and doting grandpa. But unless you’re under age 10, it’s not about winning the world’s best dad contest. Well, maybe it’s a little about that.
My dad is so strong that even 11 years after his passing, his words and actions are still sinking in. I win.
The original version of this column was published in June 2006.