I've crossed paths with a variety dads in my life: one devoted, one distant, and one MIA. I never knew my own biological father and the evidence of his existence was sparse and unspoken, so I created my own version of this apparition-like DNA that aided in my conception. As a teenager, I'd sneak outside to smoke a cigarette, stare up at the sky, and conduct a heart-to-heart with the dad I never knew. He looked like Willie Nelson, or so I imagined, and had a road-weary, soft voice that gave me mountains of concise advice. He chose his words carefully, was reflective and had those deep blue eyes that showed the contents of his character.
If my imaginary dad was Willie, the step-dad that raised me was Dick Cheney. Conservative, thorough, and reliable, yet stern and detached, he'd leave me messages on post-it notes as his form of communication: "Check your oil" or "Lock the barn". These were the tidbits of advice thrown my way in perfectly proportioned handwriting. He always helped me with the enigmatic algebraic equations that gave me trouble and was the financier for most of my needs. But most needs, the ones that really matter in the long run between a father and daughter, aren't met through money. And this is where my reliable, yet devastatingly distant step-dad faltered. As a young female, I wanted above all else to feel loved, unconditionally, and to be told how worthy I was. To see pride in a daddy's eyes.
Somehow, someway, despite the fair to middling examples of fatherhood evident in my genealogy, I hit the jackpot with my husband. He was the third son born in a family of eight children, so family values are intrinsic. To be honest, he's a much better parent than I am--always sacrificing, patient, and active. After a hard day at work, he runs in the house and wrestles with the kids on the carpet or sprays them with the hose--he always has time to play with the kids, not just conduct the mundane tasks of parenting, but truly enjoys them and they know it. What makes him the best father I've ever known is that look in his eyes when he interacts with our children; you can't fake that, you can't buy that kind of love. There is no doubt in my mind my son will be a great father because of his example and my daughter will not seek love in unworthy suiters, because she has a beautiful specimen of a man to compare all the rest to.
For this Father's Day, I'm not buying another meaningless gift. I'm going to give my husband the gift he always seems to ask for--recognition. Whenever my husband drives ten hours straight to the beach or repairs a catastrophe in the basement, he always asks, "Who's the man?" This Sunday in my house is going to be the "You're the Man Day" because it takes a lot to be a great one. Anyone who has had a father, brilliant or brutal, understands the significance of this role. But, when the unsurmountable to-do list obstructs the view of just how awesome dads can be, they get taken for granted. Not this Sunday though, we're having a full day of appreciation and gratitude for the love, the strength, the loyalty, and the joy you bring into our life. Happy Father's Day to all the dads out there that make a difference. You're the man.