Father’s Day has come and gone 44 times in my life. For the past 21 years, I have been both father and son. I haven’t always been the best in either role, but I have always meant well. Good intentions, however, are never enough. It takes so much more and for me, that took a long time. It took my experiencing life from the other side of the father/son paradigm; it took maturity; it took patience and understanding; it took work. Today I have a very good relationship with my father and all three of my sons, but it wasn’t always that way…
In my pre-teen years, I remember doing all the things families do. We went camping and hiking, took vacations to Disneyland; summer evening bicycle rides downtown to the ice cream shop and Sunday morning rides to the donut shop were just a few of our family activities. There was an informal Fourth of July block party every year and a spontaneous game of stickball in the cul-de-sac wasn’t uncommon. Almost all of the kids went to the school just two blocks away. Every July the moms would harvest the fruit from the apricot trees left behind from the orchard that used to be our street and prepare it for drying. It was straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting - suburbia in the late sixties. It was only a short drive, but a million miles away from the upheaval surrounding us in San Francisco, Berkeley and Oakland.
By the time I started junior high school, the dust had begun to settle. Nixon was out, the war in Vietnam was finally over - the summer of love was but a distant memory. We were the generation without a cause, but still rebellious. In the tumult that came with my teenage years, it seemed that my father and I had less and less in common. In time and in order to justify my rebellion, I built a case that we just couldn’t get along - that he just didn’t understand me and moreover, didn’t care to. If he would just see things my way all would be well - my obstinacy never figured into the equation.
Throughout high school and beyond, we had a tenuous relationship that would at times be tolerable bordering on pleasant and at others be entirely antagonistic. He would do things to help me that he thought appropriate while I would counter with my own ideas of what I thought were right. His idea of supportiveness and mine were often diametrically opposed to one another. I had certain expectations that I believed were not being fulfilled and I extrapolated that to a deluded belief of malicious intent on his part. I was not seeing anything close to the whole picture; my self-centeredness completely clouded reality.
For a number of reasons, not the least of which are my own experiences with fatherhood, I have made a complete about-face in my perception of how things were. I know today (and have for sometime now) that my dad only had the best of intentions. I know today that he did what he thought was best and no matter how much I felt otherwise, he has been in my corner all along. I can’t even begin to list the great many instances that illustrate his devotion, his commitment and his love. No matter how far I went astray, he was always there to help me up and dust me off.
In this respect and many others, I am absolutely my father’s son. I have stood by my own children even when they wanted nothing to do with me. I have tried to help and had it blow up in my face. I have had to say no when I really wanted to say yes. I have tried to defend myself with logic when dealing with entirely illogical behavior. Throughout it all, I remain undaunted. I am still in the game and I’m committed to be there until the end of my days. It’s part of the job I willingly accepted so many years ago. It’s how fatherhood was modeled for me and although I can’t say I am the perfect father, I have been perfectly devoted to my children.
With Father’s Day now only a little more than an hour away, I find myself reflecting on my relationship with my dad over the years. I think he would agree that the last two or three years have been the best in a very long time… maybe ever. Curiously, that poor, misunderstood, maligned son that was the picture I had framed for myself is now shattered. I led a charmed childhood; I was given every opportunity and had the love and support of my mother and my father right up until this very moment. The past in not what it once was. Who says you can’t go back in time?
Happy Father’s Day, Dad. You did a good job. I love you.