OK, Dads, Back on the Clock

How lame is this? A tribute to my late father the day after Father’s Day.

You would have to have met him to know how appropriate it is. A dignified man, Dad eschewed Father’s Day. He considered it unnecessary and pronounced it so in the most disparaging of terms.

He didn’t mean unnecessary as in, “You shouldn’t have.” Or even as in, “Every day should be Father’s Day.” I’m not really sure what he had against Father’s Day, but if I had to guess, it was probably because, to him, it smacked of saccharine sentiment, cheaply bought.

Dad was not a greeting card kind of guy. I don’t remember ever getting or giving one to him. But he wrote great letters. I still have the letter he wrote the day I started high school. He apologized that a bad head cold prevented him from giving me better words of wisdom on my way out the door. Instead he wrote them down for posterity.

My Dad would have turned 100 on April 10. As it turns out, this year was the 100th anniversary of Father’s Day. Maybe, because my Dad was of the same vintage, he was more aware of the backhanded compliment the occasion started out to be.

According to the Christian Science Monitor, Father’s Day began as a way to try to spit-shine the tarnished image of fathers. The author writes, “Father’s Day was started a century ago because Sonora Smart Dodd was upset by the widespread mocking of fathers in popular culture as lazy, sleazy and drunk.”

How far do you think we’ve come with that one?

On another level, my Dad would have said it was one of those mawkish trappings of popular culture that clutter our lives. He may have been the originator of the phrase, “Keep it simple …” But instead of the bastardized version, “Keep it Simple, Stupid” or KISS for short, he would say, “Keep it simple, Sweetie.”

His advice still rings in my head whenever I feel under siege from too much too do, too many obligations. Another great piece of advice from Dad was, “If you’re not sure what to do, wait, and the answer will become clear.”

For Dad – the father of six girls – keeping it simple was often easier said than done. For him, it was six times the giggles, six times the pit stops on family road trips, six times the hormones, six times father of the bride. What was he thinking?

I can tell you it was not, “Maybe this time we’ll have a boy.” Dad never made us feel like girls were somehow second best. And, where we might have felt like one of the great female multitude, he made each one of us feel special.

Dad taught me how to fish in the Catskill Mountains. To this day, I cannot smell crushed fern without thinking of him. Molly and he shared a love of gardening. Helen couldn’t wait to get him to herself after work, so they could throw a softball back and forth.

Jane said he always made her feel pretty. He had a nickname for Sally I won’t repeat here to spare everybody’s dignity. As for Ros, he knew her love of chocolate and often brought her a Hershey’s bar from the gift shop of the hospital where he was a well-respected surgeon. He’d slip it to her on the sly, with love.

With six girls, his “keep it simple” mantra was often hard to maintain. Coming of age during the turbulent 1960s, some of us gave him cause for a few more gray hairs. All of us had challenges that he suffered through with us and supported us through to the best of his ability.

Sorry, Dad and belated thanks. Having been a parent now for nearly 26 years, I’ve got a much better appreciation of all you did for us.

In his well-earned retirement – his “girlies” all out of the nest and making relatively good sense – Dad enjoyed such things as cleaning the birdbath and making a trip to the dump. One has to have run the marathon of fatherhood to appreciate stuff like that. And maybe that’s a father’s reward.

So stay strong guys. Pace yourselves. Thanks for all you do the other 364 days a year.

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