Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Gift

Today is the day set aside on the calendar to honor fathers everywhere. Here's to wishing a happy Father's Day to dads everywhere and to inviting each of you to take ten minutes out of your day to read the piece that President Obama wrote for this week's Parade Magazine. Whether you voted for President Obama or not (I belong to the latter group), it is an interesting and timely read. At its core is a central premise, which is that as a father our child is not a chore. Our child is our gift, our joy and - forever - our responsibility. In the piece, the President writes, "That is why we need fathers to step up, to realize that their job does not end at conception; that what makes you a man is not the ability to have a child but the courage to raise one."

Through the somewhat unconventional path to adulthood that I traveled I became a husband and a father at exactly the same moment in time, which is why I find it difficult not to view June 19 each year as something more than simply our anniversary. It marks the day sixteen years ago that I pushed all my chips into the center of the table, declaring myself "all in". I have been living off of the winnings ever since.

I am the youngest of three sons (and for good measure my parents had three daughters as well). Both of my brothers are fathers and while I talk to Bill frequently and have not talked to Kelly in eighteen years, I hope with equal fervor that each of them has a wonderful Father's Day. Of the three Kenny sons, only Kelly has thus far added the title of "Grandpa" to his C.V. Perhaps it has mellowed my brother somewhat. Perhaps, although I do not recall adding the title of "Grandpa" to his repertoire having a palliative effect on our father.

Both of my brothers are braver than I am. Given the experience of living the first fourteen years of my life with dad, who was then in the twilight of his own life, fathering children was high on my "Things Never to Do" list, a click or two perhaps lower than "Tug on Superman's cape" but significantly higher than "Wear white after Labor Day". As fate would have it - proving yet again that life is what happens while one is busy making plans - I met and fell in love with Margaret and the two little life companions she toted along with her - Suzanne and Rob. I ended up on the right side of the best 3 for 1 sale in the history of retail.

Neither of our kids is a child any longer. And no longer do each of them occupy a bedroom at the top of the stairs. Suzanne, the older of the two is still there, pursuing her higher education at dizzying heights and promising/threatening never to move out while Rob, her junior by fourteen months, is far from here, pursuing his dream two time zones away. Both of them are beautiful, successful young adults and while it may sound as if I am bragging upon them simply as a mechanism for stretching out my arm in order to make it easier to pat myself on the back, I am not. I have long adhered to the teachings of that great American philosopher Josey Wales. I am a man who is well-versed in understanding his own limitations. My kids are the product of their own hard work and innate talents and Margaret's constant mothering and positive reinforcement. Me? I excelled at driving the car when we had someplace we had to be and making sure sufficient funds were in the account to cover any check that had to be written. Other than that, I tried to stay out of the way as much as I could - for fear of screwing either of them up too much - and enjoy the show.

And what a show it has been thus far. In Suzanne and Rob, I have the greatest gift any father could ever hope to receive on Father's Day. And on this Father's Day, I shall renew the silent promise I make to them, to Margaret and to myself each year: I shall try every day to prove that I deserve it; that I am worthy of the gift I have been given.


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