So, here comes Father’s Day – a Hallmark holiday I always dreaded as a child, because I didn’t have a father. No, I wasn’t a test tube baby or anything. My parents divorced just shy of my fourth birthday. Mom, my big brother, and I moved to another state, and never again saw my father. I have no, as the saying goes, “independent recollection” of ever calling anyone “Daddy,” though I must have done so, since I lived with him for almost four years. There were a few phone calls. But, in the 1950s, long distance telephone calls were a luxury, and luxuries were rare in my childhood. The last time we spoke, I was four years old. Mom handed me the phone, and I said, “Hello, Jack.” (Well, that’s what my mother called him.) he said, “Jack? That’s what you call me? Well, how hardheaded can you get… Put your brother on the phone.” And those were the last words I ever heard from my father – prophetic, though they were. Throughout my life, most who know me would agree with that “hardheaded” conclusion. So, although I didn’t really know my father, he obviously understood a bit about me.
There were no grandfathers. Both died within a few months of each other when I was two, and we lived in a different state from our uncles. Mom remarried after a few years. However, he already had four children of his own. So, he was a nice man – mostly just my mother’s husband. I especially dreaded Father’s Day, because in the 1960s and ‘70s, greeting cards were far less specific. Whereas, nowadays, you can likely find a Father’s Day card for Caitlyn Jenner – to the woman who used to be my dad. Back in the day, there were no Happy Father’s Day to the man who married my mom, drives the car, and keeps us on his health insurance. I suppose divorce was not yet socially acceptable enough to make stepfather cards. Anyway, I never felt comfortable with the mushy “I love you, Daddy” cards, because they just were not applicable for my situation. Fortunately, my stepfather’s birthday was within a few days – some years, it fell on Father’s Day. So, I would usually just give him a birthday card, and add a Father’s Day greeting to it.
My father died when I was 14. So, there was never any reunion. After missing out on the whole daddy experience, one might think that, as an adult, I would have a warm relationship with a father-in-law. However, I married a guy who was, likewise, fatherless, having lost his dad when he was just nine years old.
While I personally knew no paternal relationship, my two children had a wonderful dad.
I don’t know if, in the almost 10 years he had with his father, my husband learned how to be a good father, or if he simply became the kind of dad he always wanted. Whatever the reason, he could have been the poster child/dad for neat, fun father.
Even before we had our own children, the little boy next door would come over, and ask me if my husband could come outside and play.
He was the kind of hands-on daddy who changed his share of dirty diapers, and regularly spelled me for the 2 AM feedings. Of course, it helped that we had that newfangled creature comfort called cable TV, which definitely enhanced that middle-of-the-night quality time for a sleepy parent with a wide-awake infant.
When the kids were very young, it was not unusual for me to return home from shopping only to find every pillow and cushion removed from our sectional sofa, and carefully arranged to accommodate all kinds of wrestling matches or gymnastic feats. My little family was staging stunts long before TV shows like Wipeout and The Titan Games.
Their dad made sure my son and daughter could pitch, catch, dribble, or pass any kind of ball. He taught them to fish in fresh and salt water, to shoot guns and use a bow and arrow. When we lived in the country, we had a pool, regulation size trampoline, huge paved area for skating and skateboarding, volleyball area, a tether ball, and at age 12, my son had a motorcycle to drive in the field.
My kids’ dad made sure they saw Disneyland and Disney World – beaches, mountains, and deserts. They skied, sailed, surfed, hiked, and camped. And all of those experiences were firsts for their mom, as well – this little girl with no dad of her own. So, despite never enjoying Father’s Day as a child, I had every reason to celebrate it as a mother. I did not grow up with a dad. But, my kids were blessed with one of the best.