A popular sentiment on mugs and tee-shirts says, “Any man can be a father. It takes someone special to be a Daddy.” Those words have always impressed me, perhaps because they express something I’ve always wanted to convey. My father is, and continuously has been, a ‘Daddy’ to me, even though I didn’t always view him with an objective eye.
When I was a child, I saw him as a saint or super-hero. The source of Sunday afternoon movies and ice-cream cones, he rarely stepped into the dull routine of my daily life. Our times together were marvelous adventures and I never questioned that they were largely determined by a divorce decree that granted him visitation rights.
But if he’d remained that fantasy figure, I don’t think I’d be writing this today. Possibly I wouldn’t even be writing today. I’d like to say this enlightenment came to me out of one of those Hallmark moments that resound with emotion; but in reality, it emerged from an incredibly frustrating experience.
Daddy and I were working together to rebuild an old bike to meet my need for wheels. He took all the working parts home to clean, grease and reassemble. My job was to sand the frame to get it ready to paint.
My enthusiasm for the project dimmed considerably when I discovered how hard I had to work. Sanding away multiple layers of old paint and rust demanded more effort than I’d anticipated, so I quit. I rationalized that the new paint would cover what I missed and nobody would know the difference.
Daddy could have let me quit. Or he could have belittled me by pointing out how foolish my choice had been. Instead, he asked if I’d noticed those few spots of rust still clinging to the metal. We could paint it that way if I wanted to, but give it a week and the new paint might peel. The final decision was up to me. It was my job and if I was satisfied…
Something in his manner told me I shouldn’t be satisfied.
Every day for a week, I sanded until my muscles ached and my fingers had blisters. There were still times I wanted to quit. I was also tempted to wrap that old frame around my father’s neck. But I stuck with it.
Now I know that Herculean effort is called tenacity. Then I thought it was torture.
That’s the first lesson I can clearly recall learning from my father, but there were more to come once I left the idealism of childhood. Like how my father never cheated the grocer or the IRS. Or how he always stopped at a red light even if the intersection was empty. And how he always treated people with respect until they proved they didn’t deserve it.
I don’t know if that learning could have taken place had I kept my father up on a childhood pedestal. When I allowed him to simply be a man, it took a lot of pressure off us both.
We still probably won’t qualify for a greeting card commercial. Neither of us is perfect in our relationship. But that’s okay. My father no longer has to save me with an ice-cream cone or Sunday matinee, and I don’t have to struggle to live up to something I’m not capable of. We can just be the people that we’ve become. And when we fail somehow, we can always pick up the sandpaper and turn our mistakes into something bright and shining.
Happy Father’s Day to all the men who have been that special ‘Daddy’ in someone’s life.