Once upon a time, I'm told, fathers went to work at dawn, came home at dusk, put on their slippers, ate dinner with their families and spent the rest of the evening smoking their pipes and reading their newspapers. Well, I never knew any fathers like that and seriously question whether they ever really existed in large numbers.
They sure don't exist now. Most fathers I know are on the daddy track, placing family above climbing the corporate ladder. You'll find them on ballfields serving as volunteer coaches, sitting around the fire on Boy Scout campouts and waltzing at Girl Scout father-daughter dances. Although still outnumbered by mothers, you'll even find them at PTA meetings.
For more years than I thought he would, my son Greg attended Boy Scout functions with my grandson Gabe. The longevity of Greg's involvement surprised me because Gabe's interest in attending the meetings waned early on; only the pine-tar derbies and campouts appealed to him.
After attending Gabe's last and very lengthy Scout bonfire ceremony with my husband Ray, I observed that, "Greg is doing it for Gabe and Gabe is doing it for Greg and both of them are doing it for Richard!" Richard, an Eagle Scout, is Greg's good friend who has faithfully remained involved in Boy Scout activities even though his children are all daughters whose Girl Scout pastimes he also enthusiastically supports.
Many fathers make extraordinary sacrifices for their children. Son Butch took fathering so seriously that he permanently parked his beloved motorcycle. Though greatly relieved, I was staggered by his sacrifice and said so. "B.J. depends on me," he replied, "and I need to be there for him."
Our boys had a great role-model in Ray, who was regularly found in the yard with them, playing whatever sport was in season. If needed, he helped them with their homework (especially math, since I am stymied by any problem that contains an x). Most amazingly -- though the boys are glad they don't remember it -- Ray learned to change their diapers.
That was one function my dad refused to perform. Go figure how a man who cleaned and dismembered fish and fowl became queasy when confronted with a loaded diaper. Still, in spite of his legal practice and political career, Dad was active in our lives. When he was home, we had his full attention; he even woke us in the middle of the night to watch lightning jump from cloud to cloud or to view the pale underbellies of lost geese flying in a holding pattern over the city.
Recently, Mom explained the particulars of that last incident. "Someone from city hall phoned and woke us up," Mom related, "and said the city lights were confusing the geese and they were lost. He asked Lew to call the geese across the river where it was darker so they could orient themselves."
Sure, it seemed a tad odd to me that Dad had us all standing in the backyard in our pajamas at 3 a.m. while he tooted on his duck caller, but we never questioned such eccentricities, instinctively understanding and patiently enduring Dad's penchant for showing us the wonders of nature. Speaking of nature, it was Dad who explained the birds and bees to my sisters and me, using illustrations from one of his old college biology books (fortunately human anatomy and reproduction do not tend to change much through the years).
But my best lessons from Dad came from example, watching how he treated people. Whether the person who knocked on our door was a U.S. Senator or a client down on his luck, Dad treated them all with the same respect. Still, he wasn't a pushover. I remember him telling a client who wanted yet another postponement of his trial, "This is the third time your grandmother died. I don't think the judge will buy it again."
Dad embraced knowledge wherever he found it, claiming he learned more about botany from hunting with some self-proclaimed undereducated Ozark hillbillies than he ever did sitting in a university classroom. "Every person -- regardless of how little education he or she may have -- knows something you don't know," he frequently told me, "and if you close your mind to that fact, you'll never find out what it is."
To me Dad was one-in-a-million, but he was only one of millions of great fathers. So, to all you daddies, fathers, dads, pas, pops and pappies who are one in a million to your own children: Happy Father's Day.