Growing up, I don’t remember much of a Father’s Day tradition in the family. I’m sure I made cards for Dad in school, I’m pretty sure. But I don’t remember most of them. My father, being a golf fanatic, loved to spend special days on the links.
After I grew up, my father and I made our own tradition. I picked up on his love for seafood, and starting in my mid-twenties, our tradition was to go to one of the restaurants in my hometown that featured a salad bar with peel-and-eat shrimp. We used to laugh about coming back from the salad bar with two plates piled high with shrimp and a third empty one for the shells.
Mom probably thought it was unfair, but after I moved away from Rochester my vacations tended to coincide with Father’s Day. So the tradition continued. Poor Mom. Christmas is her favorite holiday and as a liturgist, I’ve managed to squeeze one “full” Christmas home in twenty years. If I’m lucky, I’ll catch a midday flight and get home after supper. And as for Mother’s Day, it’s usually First Communion day, or the wrap-up for the Easter season. I don’t think I’ve been home at all for Mother’s Day in two decades.
Getting back to my dad, I’ll say that our relationship, which was never really troubled to begin with, began to deepen just a bit after I grew up. Dad was older than the fathers of most of my peers. He was 45 when I was born, and maybe a bit out of step with other dads in the neighborhood. I always had a sense he appreciated time spent together. So that was a priority when I came home to visit.
In the summer of 1995, two days after Anita and I got engaged, and the day after I took a new job in Iowa, Iearned he had leukemia. He died later that year on my birthday and just a month before I got married. From a distance, the loss was harder to absorb. My sister insisted I plan the funeral with her Lutheran pastor and arrange all the music. When I got home, it was the usual chaos Dad would be bothered about. And since I was in professional mode, in part, it didn’t really sink in.
It was the following May when Anita and I were out shopping on some Saturday. I mentioned out loud it was time to look around for a good Father’s Day card. My wife stared at me a bit. She had to remind me, “Your father’s dead.” There wasn’t much emotion connected to it for me, just a bit of a surprise that a routine with the man I loved wasn’t there anymore.
The receiving end of the holiday eventually replaced the giving side. There’s really no feeling quite like being on the listening end of being called “Dad” or “Daddy.” Like my own father, my expectations are simple. I’d be happy with a card and a side-by-side reading session in a library or in the backyard. My wife’s family tradition includes presents, a separate card “signed” by the pets, and a dinner out. The dinner’s okay, but Brittany doesn’t really like shrimp, so I don’t think the three-plate peel-and-eat meal will return to the family tradition.
If it felt a bit awkward the first few years being the target of today’s holiday, I’ve gotten used to it. I take my role as a father very seriously. And I have a lot of fun with my daughter, watching her grow up and develop as a unique and special person. I have a lot of pride (if that’s permitted) in her, and I like the day to celebrate my end of the relationship.
The handshakes and man to man talk are a thing of the past. My daughter is a lot more affectionate than my dad was. I can still eat shrimp as often as I care to, but the smooches and hugs are a great continuation of the Father’s Day tradition. I hope your celebrations and rituals, guys, are as meaningful today.