It’s been eighteen years since my father died and my relationship with him is still the single-most important relationship I’ve ever had.
He’s the rock I stand on. His faith in me is what makes me confident that I can overcome anything if I put my mind to it.
How did he show that faith? By being there for me. Day in and day out.
By coming to my basketball games and taking me up to the court to practice my hook shot.
By coming to my chess tournaments and spending hours playing chess with me. (And cribbage. And backgammon. And gin. And Scrabble.)
By being there.
By listening. By supporting me. (And arguing with me when it was called for.)
By never putting me down or calling me a horrible person. By always lifting me up.
He didn’t just say he cared, he showed it. He made us a priority in his life.
He didn’t have to. He worked sixty hours a week running his own business. And spent another fifteen a week hooked up to a dialysis machine. He could’ve easily said, “I need time for me. Go away.”
But he knew that being a father matters.
His own dad died when he was three. His mother then married or lived with a series of men, including at least one who ended up in prison. There was no one in his life to be there for him the way he was for us.
So he tried to give us what he’d lacked–someone who cared and had absolute faith in us.
That love and devotion made all the difference. Even now. Even eighteen years after he died, it still makes all the difference. In those dark moments of doubt I think about all those times he encouraged me to continue. All those times I told him some crazy idea I had and he didn’t question whether I could do it, but asked what he could do to help me get there.
He read my first poems and gave me pointers on how to improve them and helped me submit them when I was ten or eleven. And when they accepted them (like they probably did everyone’s) he didn’t question how valid the publication was, but congratulated me.
He gave me my first copy of The Prophet and encouraged me to read Tolstoy and Lermontov.
When I decided to switch from being a physics major to a psychology major he didn’t even doubt that I was making the right choice for me or that I’d be successful no matter what major I chose.
I can’t remember him ever calling me or my brother names even though I’m sure there were occasions when it was warranted.
I have a book on my shelves called The Greatest Man I’ve Ever Known. My brother made it a few years ago and filled it with pictures of my dad. Because that’s the kind of father he was. The type of man who, even fifteen years after his death, could inspire his kids to call him the greatest man they’d ever known.
Life is hard. There are too many demands. Too many conflicting needs. But, if you’re going to be a father, be a great one.
And how do you do that? Spend time with your children. Be kind to them. Help them find their path (not yours).
Remember, they’ll love you far more for the hour you spend playing a game with them than for the shiny toy you buy them to make up for never being there.
You matter to your children. More than you can ever know.
Happy Father’s Day.