Today is Father’s Day, as determined by the U.S. Congress, the President of the United States and the Hallmark Greeting Card Company. For weeks, my email inbox has been inundated with suggestion of what I might get for "Dad," (since apparently the Build-A-Bear Company, Barnes & Noble, The Popcorn Factory and I are siblings), any of which I wish I could do. But Dad, that is, MY Dad, isn’t around for me to give a gift.
I, it should be noted, am in Rome today (or that is, I intend to be in Italy on Father’s Day, and am writing this in advance–in the interest of full disclosure), on a vacation with my family that we have been planning for years, literally. So I doubt there will be much of a Father’s Day celebration for us, as we’ll be happy to celebrate the fact that we’re in Rome. That, surely, is enough.
To be honest, I’ve never much noted Father’s Day since the first year I was eligible for such distinction. I believe you should be nice to your parents every day, assuming they’re holding up their end of the bargain by trying their best. My mother, who is still around, deserves my respect and love on all days, whether I buy her a bizarre card or not.
When I was in college, I refused to send cards. As an English major and aspiring writer (at the time of screenplays and journalism), I felt that paying for words to send to your loved ones was cheating, so I’d write something myself. To a certain extent, I still believe that, and the fact that the stupid things often rhyme just makes it worse. If I have to give my mother a message that rhymes, I’ll give her the new Paul Simon album. Odds are, it’ll express my feelings more accurately than something that beings, "Dearest MOTHER…"
My father, when he was around, seemed somewhat embarrassed by Father’s Day. He never paid it much attention, either, and always put on a show about how surprised he was by whatever inadequate gift or idiotic "funny" card we’d gotten for him. He wasn’t much of an actor, and even when I was small, I could tell he was putting up with it because he thought it would make us happy.
And that was the essence of my dad–he’d do whatever he could to make his family happy. Whether or not it made him feel good seemed beside the point: of course he was pleased, so long as the rest of us were pleased. That’s one of the many reasons I’ll miss him every day for the rest of my life.
My children, who are roughly as enamored of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day as they are of Arbor Day or Guy Fawkes Day, need to be reminded that they should do something for one of their parents once a year just because. It’s not that they are bad citizens the other 364, of course. Their mother and I don’t really place much emphasis on the holidays designated for us, and there’s no reason the kids would pick up on something we obviously don’t consider essential. On the contrary, they are becoming the kind of people we hoped they’d be, and that is enough of a full-time job. Something from Amazon.com isn’t necessary to underline it.
They are unique individuals, each of them. On occasion, when a radio interviewer or (more troubling) someone I know asks whether they are in some way scarred psychically by having a father, and not a mother, who is the parent holding down the fort when they get home from school (and they don’t phrase it like that, but it’s what the questioner means), I have to shake my head in wonder. My children don’t think it’s unusual to have Dad at home. But they know that I’m working when I’m at home, too. It has always been this way for them, and the idea that it is somehow strange is enough to make them bust out laughing.
My son, who enjoys being considerably larger than the rest of us, doesn’t have a vicious bone in his (to us) enormous body. He has a kind heart and a strong mind that asks lots of questions about things he finds fascinating and completely ignores everything else. He has a neurological condition called Asperger Syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism, and would be mortified to find out that I just told you that. He despises being treated "differently," doesn’t like to tell anyone about his "disability," and thinks it odd that the rest of the world sees him as outside the norm. He’s right, of course, but he does need the occasional helping hand where others don’t, and growls when it’s offered because he hates needing it. He is, and will be forever, a mensch.
My daughter, who loves animals and people, in that order, is an American Original in every way. She has a quick, incisive mind and a wit that would be dangerous if she were the least bit mean. But she’s not, and so her comments can only be endearing. She is also kindhearted, generous, and the best company of anyone I know. I do not suffer fools gladly, I’m afraid, but I am never, ever bored when I’m talking to my daughter.
Neither of them has ever read one of my books. When I started writing, I felt the kids were too young and now, they think they might see too much of themselves in some of the characters, and are uncomfortable with that. It is perfect logic, and I understand. My characters sometimes use people I know as jumping-off points, and that is true with my children. But they are not the characters in my books. It’s a fine distinction, but an important one, and the kids would rather not have to think about it. They are intelligent people, and have made the right choice for themselves.
They are everything their grandfather would have hoped for them. The other day, when my daughter made some remark I can’t remember, I told her she was a wiseguy. Not missing a beat, my 13-year-old turned to me and said, "I learned from the Master."
And that’s not a bad Father’s Day gift, after all.