Today is Father’s Day, I know this because for the past few weeks, my email accounts and social media feeds have been clogged with gift ideas for Dad, everything from Omaha Steaks, to tech toys, and an assortment of supplies from the Art of Shaving. Thank you Mark Zuckerberg.
It’s my fourth Father’s Day as a dad, but my mind isn’t on the latest Cool Base baseball jersey or another pair of running shoes, it’s on my Dad.
Growing up my parents hosted a Father’s Day cookout in their backyard that was both simple and excessive – especially after joining Costco. Year after year my Mom and Dad produced elaborated spreads of all sorts of mouth-watering grilled foods, sardines and shrimp, Italian sausages, pork chops, and steaks, paired with beer, or pitchers of homemade wine and sangria.
This family tradition wasn’t always elaborate — it grew over the years. I remember the four of us sitting at a picnic table in the yard. Dad grilled our meal on a stone barbeque grill he built with my uncle. As the family grew to include daughters-in law, grandchildren and others, so did the menu. Besides the food, I remember another thing about Father’s Day, he never used the gifts we gave him. He always put them into a draw or the back of the closet, never to be seen again.
Sadly, I never enjoyed this event as a father, we spent my First Father’s Day in a nursing home as Dad battled Pancreatic Cancer during his last days.
My Dad was a craftsman, one of a lost generation of finish carpenters. He was brought in to add a special touch to the corner offices and corporate boardrooms for Wall Street investment houses and Fortune 500 companies, and sometimes the homes of their top executives. I remember him being sent to work to in cities like Boston, Philadelphia, or San Francisco for a week of two. Although he hated being away, it was the best way he knew to provide for his wife and family.
As a kid, I remember he had already left for work before my brother Bob and I had gotten up for school. After work, he was always working around the house, or planning the next home improvement. When Mom asked if he could put a stove next to the playroom Bob and I had in the basement. He built her a kitchen, so she could keep an eye on us as she prepared dinner.
Now that I’m a father one thought keeps coming back to me, he made it look easier than I do. He worked full time, raised two sons, and maintained a house without breaking a sweat. Working full time and sharing the parenting duties of one three-year old and takes up most of my time and energy. These days I barely get to sit at a keyboard and write.
A few months ago, Cristian and I were out walking through the neighborhood when we saw Mrs. D. She’s known me since I was a little older than Cristian is now. I grew up playing with her kids. After catching up on her kids and grandkids, we talked about Dad. I remember telling her, “I don’t know how he was able to do it, he made parenting look so easy. He raised two sons, I have my hands full with one.”
Shaking her head, she smiled and said, “Don’t be so hard on yourself, you’re doing more than you think. You grew up in a different time and things are different now.” She nodded at Cristian saying, “When you were his age, parents had defined roles and one paycheck supported a family. Nowadays both parents have to work and need to share the parenting responsibilities.”
Mrs. D gave me a lot to think about. I kept returning to the advice a friend gave me when my better half was pregnant. He said, “Do what your parents did and fill in what’s missing.” That’s a tall order.
Dad wasn’t a big speech guy—his actions spoke more clearly than his words did. If he made a promise, he kept it. He was an old-school father—he didn’t tolerate tantrums—he ignored them. He seemed aloof when my brother Bob and I argued back and forth, but he wasn’t. He was letting work things out on our own.
Another lesson he taught took me years to figure out. It drove us nuts when Dad ignored the polo shirts, cologne, and power tools. He used to tell us, “Don’t waste your money on gifts, I don’t need anything.” I thought he was being proud, but he wasn’t. For him spending the day with his children and grandchildren was the gift he wanted most.