Sunday, June 19, 2011

Dad's Day

I just got back from a nice little walk, and during that walk I was thinking. (I was also enjoying the incredibly clear view of the mountains, but that doesn't really have much to do with anything else except my enjoyment of the walk.)

Today, as you may know, is Father's Day, one of those days that I usually refer to as a Hallmark Holiday. In other words, I don't think it has much to do with anything except as an excuse that some marketing execs made up to try and sell more merchandise during an otherwise slow season. But, at the same time, it does serve the purpose of reminding me of my own father, and generating some thoughts that might not have been generated otherwise.

Today I was thinking about the difference between being a father and being a Dad. Anyone, as they say, can become a father (which is only half true), but only a few can become a Dad.

So what is it that makes a man a Dad?

As I asked myself that question, I happened to pass by some parked cars and there, in the back of one of them, was an answer: a copy of One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.

And just how, pray tell, is that an answer? I'm so glad you asked, dear Reader.

From what I can tell, being a father means that you have donated a single cell to the development of a child. This can be done either with love, as in the case of a healthy and happy marriage, or through force, as in the sad case of a rape. There is nothing else that seems to be required.

But being a Dad is a far more intimate relationship with the child. It means being there for the child when they are growing up, or throwing up, or going down to sleep. It means getting up in the middle of the night, night after night, to change their diapers so that your wife can get her much-needed rest after breast-feeding hour after hour.

It means reading to them stories, like Dr Seuss, before bed, and driving them to their dance classes or cheering for them at their soccer games.

It means getting down on the floor with them and listening to their explanations of what it is they just built with their legos, or the story they just enacted in their doll house, or seeing the family there in the scribble of lines on the paper. And it means treasuring that Miro-like drawing that hangs on the refrigerator more than those curators treasure those child-like drawings that hang in their galleries.

It means being aware of what it is that you are feeding them. It means taking the time to cook a good healthy meal for them, instead of dropping by and grabbing some burgers at McDonald's on the way home. It means sitting down with them at the dinner table and listening to them try and recount their day, telling you about the social dynamics of their friendships, and who is their current best-friend.

It means watching them, scared, as they get back on their bicycle, with their knees still bleeding, encouraging them to try again, knowing that the falling is part of the learning.

It means holding them at 3 am when they are crying, convinced that the nightmare was real.

It means recalling how to do those math problems you haven't done in twenty years so that you can help them with their homework.

It means taking the time to be with them. It means knowing that a year for them is 1/4 or 1/10th of their life, when it is a much smaller fraction of yours, and that telling them something is only a month away is a far longer eternity for them than it is for you.

It means holding their hand when they are crossing the street, or walking down the aisle.

It means holding them when they let that baby bird go, or bury their pet cat.

It means intimately living every day by those words of 'Abdu'l-Baha that where there is love, there is time, and nothing is too much trouble.

It means that whether they are 2 months, 2 years, or 2 decades old, you recognize the gift that has been given to you and you are grateful for every moment you have together.

It means crying while waiting for the doctor's prognosis over some unknown illness, when you see their mortality starkly before your eyes, knowing deep in your soul that there truly is nothing more painful than for a parent to lose their child. And it means bleeding a little bit every time you read of a parent whose own child is missing.

It means knowing that even though you will always see them as your baby, they do grow up and will surpass you, in time. And it means cheering them on, encouraging them, as they sprint all out towards the future.

It means that your life, now and always, has been changed. The past and the future are so mixed up with them that the years and the days are never the same again. You see in them your own past memories growing in a different direction, taking another course, the road you didn't travel. And never judging them for it, but supporting them always, even if it means letting them go to make their own mistakes. Especially when it means to let them make their own mistakes.

It means seeing yourself in them, and maybe living that dream you never dared. It means being proud of them for who they are, and not for what you want them to be.

One of my dearest memories of my own Dad is when he held me after some birds tried to take some of my hair for their nest. He just held me and said soothing words, all the time, I'm sure, trying to stifle his own laughter over the situation.

I remember him taking me on a business trip, making sure to make the time so that it would be enjoyable for me, too.

I can recall when he was angry, and when he laughed, and even when he was scared.

I remember visiting him in hospital when he asked about how I viewed God. Or that time that proved to be my last with him when he smiled at my saying the next time I would take him out of that dark room to walk with him on the beach.

But most of all, I know that when I think of that magical word, "Dad", that title that is only bestowed upon those most worthy, I see his smiling face.

I can only pray that when my son thinks of that other eminent title, "Papa", he sees my smiling face.

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