I have three sons. I wrote this for them, and other fathers, in June 2010.
I think about these words every year and now I want to share them again. With some minor changes, this is what I wrote and still believe:
Maybe you don’t save the cards. I do – at least a lot of them.
Birthday cards and Father’s Day cards. It’s not the cards so much as the quick scribble inside. I could pull out a stack of them anytime and say, “Here ya go. Proof. It says right here that I’m ‘A Great Dad.’ "
Ahh, but am I?
We create these little packages of life with tiny toes and delicate fingers and trusting eyes that leave you wondering, “Now what?”
Babies do not come with instruction manuals. Right away, you start thinking about what kind of father you will be. You think you already know what you’re not going to do, but you do many of those things anyway.
It’s not so tough in the beginning. You run to the crying, find the cause and fix it. And dads often do more watching than doing. (Thank you moms everywhere.)
You feed ’em, hug ’em, guard them, but it begins to get a little tougher when toddlers start asking questions and tugging at the leash. And that starts early and once it does, it never really stops.
Where does it say dads or moms have all the answers? We often pretend we do. But ...
I’ve reached that point we all eventually reach and confess, “I wasn’t a perfect dad, but I tried to do the right thing. I did the best I could.”
But did I? I will always wonder if I should have done more.
I have three sons and I have apologized to each one more than once. For a lot of little stuff.
“Sorry I missed your game.” ... “I shouldn’t have gotten so angry.” ... “I should have been around more.” ... “I should have tried to understand more.”
I say little stuff, but was it? Were there bigger issues? Was there something left out of that whole learning about life thing? Eventually, there’s the tough question that maybe we do not want to ask. Do they still need me? Am I important anymore?
To my dad, I could have said yes, there were bigger issues I struggled with. All sons do. But I can see we both were juggling life together. We dropped some balls, but that is how you learn.
Do I still need you Dad? You’re gone, but there are still things I could learn, I know, but it’s not so much a need for you to teach or help me as the need for you to just be there. There’s comfort in that. Then you were gone and the world got a little bit scarier. Doesn’t matter how old I am.
The gifts we give and get on Father’s Day often are fleeting. I enjoyed the ties, the shirts, the cologne, the tools, and I love the books. I still treasure cards from long ago with the names smeared in crayon – some with doodle drawings.
But what do dad’s really want – on Father’s Day or any day? Perhaps other dads would like what I want.
I want you to tell me it’s OK. I want to know you forgive the things that were done wrong or not done at all.
I want you to tell me you know who you are and you are not afraid to be who you are.
I want you to tell me you know how to be happy.
I want you to share a piece of your life with me whenever you can. It doesn’t have to be much. Just a slice is enough.
I want you to tell me you understand the pain of others, even if you do not like them.
I want you to have pride in your name and understand it comes from generations of fathers and sons, each with their own achievements and failures. I want you share the name and its worth with your own children. If there are children.
I want you to pause now and then and remember a moment that we shared. A moment when the world was right and we knew it and savored it together. I would hope for many such moments.
I want you to understand you were the product of love and on the day you were born, a fire started that still burns.
I want you to know I am a dad and you are a son and that never ends.
All these things I want because they would help me believe all those cards I saved that told me more than once, in a variety of ways, that I’m “A Great Dad.”
• Lonny Cain is the retired managing editor of The Times in Ottawa and was a reporter for the Herald-News in the 1970s. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or mail to The Times, 110 W. Jefferson St., Ottawa, IL 61350.