Dad’s Legacy

Holidays like Father’s Day are wonderful, except that they’re kind of like landmines.  Like any holiday, Father’s Day can conjure up complicated feelings.

Fathers are all different.  Some possess the unforced ability to make their children and spouse seem always treasured, always loved.  Others are more withdrawn, and while their love and devotion are constant, they may struggle to demonstrate their love in ways their family understands.

Some fathers rise to success.  Others, through the years, slip into mediocrity, even failure.  I’m speaking here of worldly accomplishments.   In my experience, a dad’s ability to generate an income has little to do with whether or not he is a good father.   Lots of rich dads have unhappy families.  Some struggling dads and their families laugh all the time.

It begs the question of what constitutes a good father.  I suppose if you ask a hundred people you’ll get a hundred different answers.  A good father works hard and helps provide the material needs of the family.  A good father communicates with words, actions and feelings that his family is more special to him than anyone else on earth.  A good father is loyal to those he loves.  He is someone whose idea of not just good times but the best times always involves them.  Someone who somehow leaves behind a trail of himself that reflects his love for those whom he helped create and sustain.

But these days there are distractions—oh, there are distractions.  Riches and poverty each bring their own distractions.  Riches bring power, a myth we blindly but inevitably accept as reality.  Poverty supplies its own distractions, most of them designed to alleviate the deep-seated feelings of fatherly failure.

The reality is that like it or not, dad is also human, and a male human at that.  There’s a primeval part of him that always struggles a bit with this whole settling down thing.   While Mom keeps the family campfire burning, dad’s always off hunting big game.

Maybe it’s the call of what’s beyond the campfire that seems to always leave a distance, acknowledged or not, between the man who is your father and the family he nevertheless loves.  A mother’s love is constant and full, given freely and without reservation.  A father’s love always seems to be tainted around the edges with the need to be earned.   Fathers, it seems, are capable of disappointment.

And so we, their children, sometimes go through hoops to make them happy and proud of us, while we take our mother’s constant love and pride, offered so freely, for granted.   While I have tried to not be that way, I can’t escape the gender I carry, and sometimes I’m surprised and even embarrassed at the fuss made about me, the fuss that it seems I haven’t done all that much to deserve.

The truth is that just like moms, dads usually feel they’ve let the people around them down far too often.   Good fathers take seriously their need to provide, but the rewards of a career don’t come cheaply, and the need to provide a living can cause collateral damage to the very ones dad sacrifices to enrich.

Hopefully you are now adults, you kids and your parents.  If so, you may want to get together and talk about the things they did that, intentionally or not, hurt or bothered you.  And as they ask you for your forgiveness, make sure you ask them for theirs.

But if your parents aren’t around anymore you’ll just have to accept the fact that in every situation they did the best they could and forgive them from afar.   It’s a good life lesson for you to do this.  Because one day your children will have to do the same for you.

It’s a messy business, being a dad, having a family.  So thank you, Dad, for all you do for the souls entrusted to you by God.   No matter what form your love takes, if they know—really know—you love them, the battle is won.  If you think maybe they’re not sure, fix it—for God’s sake fix it—while you both still have breath.

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