Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a variety of papers across Canada and the United States. Here’s this week’s column, On Fathers:
When I think of Dad, I think of belly laughs, and smiles, and choked back tears. I think of a proud grandfather, a fiercely loyal parent, a family man.
I think of a man who loves hockey but who loves his grand-daughters, too. I picture a man who is proud that his children have outpaced him in learning, if not always in common sense. I see a man who might worry about the practical side of life—health, money, or jobs—but not about family or friends, because he knows they are rock solid. And they are rock solid because he is. And though he may make fun of Mom and me talking clothes, or cooking, or gardening, or my daughters laughing about toys or dresses or flowers, he is secretly pleased that so much estrogen surrounds him.
Girls, you see, were once a rarity in his life. I was his first daughter, but he only inherited me at his oldest son’s wedding. And though he is not genetically my father, when I hear the word Dad, his is the face that comes to my mind.
Father’s Day, which must have been created by Hallmark and the people who make fishing poles, was my least favourite holiday as a child. I didn’t live anywhere near my father, so how could I celebrate him?
My relationship with my biological father has always revolved around heredity. Like many who should have a relationship but don’t, he is often trying to establish a connection, and the only one that exists is genetic. When I demonstrate some of his traits, he’s tickled pink. He can claim pride because he can claim me as his daughter. Now I do know that he wishes things could have been different, and that he does genuinely love me. But it is love at a distance.
This genetic type of love is valuable in its own way and I am grateful for it, but it is very different from parental affection, which is what I feel with Dad. As a child, it is what you desperately need, and when I looked around for it, I found it in my uncle. He wasn’t genetically related to me, either, but he did care for me, and fuss over me like a dad should whenever I gave my heart away to an undeserving boy. He picked up the phone to dispense advice or provide a listening ear when I needed it.
He walked through adolescence with me, delivered the “father of the bride” toast at my wedding, and made baby faces at my daughters. When Katie was two, though, I wrote him a good-bye letter, because the cancer had come back. In that letter I had the chance to tell him how much he had meant to me. And I told him that when I arrive in heaven one day, God will call him over and say, “Art, here is your daughter.” He was the father figure of my youth.
I will celebrate one more father this Father’s Day: the only father I actually chose. He’s the man I’m thrilled is the father of my children: a dad who is loving, and kind, and generous, and a true partner to me. Because of him, Father’s Day is finally a big production in my life.
It is difficult as a little girl not to have a Daddy that she is close to. And yet, as I’ve matured I’ve realized that many men have played that fatherly role, showing me what it means to be loved, affirmed, protected, and cared for. I have the genetic father, to whom I owe many of my gifts, as well as my lack of propensity to gain weight, for which I am eternally grateful. I have the father of my childhood, who is not here to celebrate except in memory. I have grandfathers who were wonderful to me. I have Dad, who delights over me today, and not only because he trusts me to pick the right nursing home one day. And I have my husband. And so I no longer dread Father’s Day. It takes me on a walk through memory lane, and I’m really quite grateful for those I have.
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