Even though my parents divorced when I was ten years old, my father was still a big part of my life. Even before the divorce my father would include me in his projects or visits with friends. After the divorce I would see my father every other weekend. I remember sitting on the curb in my front yard anxiously waiting to see his truck and camper coming down the street. My weekends spent with dad were either at his beach house in Seal Beach, camping and fishing in the High Sierras, or visiting his friends or the fire station he worked at. My father was always kind and gentle with me. I have so many fond memories of him. Was he perfect, no? But in the eyes of this twelve–year old boy, he could do no wrong.
The day my father died is perhaps the worse day of my life. I was told that dad was sick, but he would be better and again we would continue with our weekend visits. We were told we would not be able to see him for a while. I remember the first day I was told I could see him. We went to his home in Long Beach and I had to wait on the front porch. I was told I could not go into the house, that I would have to talk with hm through the screen door. Dad walked out of the bedroom in a white terry cloth robe and walked over to is couch which was about fifteen feet away from the door. I wanted so badly to run in and sit next to him. I wanted my dad to hold me and tell me he loves me, but it wouldn’t happen. I was crushed.
Eventually he was moved to a convalescent hospital where I was able to see and sit with him more often. Even though I knew dad was sick, even though his skin was yellow, he was really skinny and had grown a beard, he was just my dad. I didn’t see him as being sick, all I saw was my loving father. After his death and as I grew older, I grew to admire my dad for his courage and strength. Even though he knew he was dying, he never displayed any signs of fear to me, only strength. It’s funny how we as adults perceive that our children see us one way when in all actuality, often times, they see us just the opposite way. I’m grateful I was able to spend time with my father in that convalescent hospital where we would on occasion sneak in a pizza and vanilla shake for his enjoyment. Sadly, and without warning, my dad died on January 12, 1969. I was beyond devastated.
Growing up without a father, as I’m sure many are aware, is not easy. Yes, I had a stepfather, however he was nothing close to being a father. Yes, he provided a roof over my head, clothes on my back and food on my table, but as far as having any of the attributes of a father, they were nonexistent. What I needed was a father that was supportive in all that I chose to do, even if he disagreed with some of my decisions. I needed a father that would show up to my baseball games at every opportunity he had to support and root me on. A father that would sit with me and help me work through difficult situations. I needed a father in my life like my dad was before he became ill and passed away. A father who taught me how to enjoy life, respect people, the outdoors and nature. I needed a father to be a dad to me, not a dictator or enemy as my stepfather was.
Fast forward into my adult years. Now I am a father, yet I am confused on how to be a father. What I did know is what I wanted in my life as a father. One of my mentors, one that was much older and wiser than me gave me this suggestion; “Be the father to your children that you always wanted when you were growing up.” So, I did everything in my power to become that father. I played catch with my children and coached their baseball teams. I was at every baseball, softball, and soccer game I could be at, which was nearly all of them. I was at every one of my daughter’s dance recitals I could be at. I took my family camping, fishing, and hunting. I taught them all how to respect people, the outdoors, and nature. I was not perfect, but I was their dad.
As I grew older and my children grew older, I would sit watching them play soccer and baseball at a club level and beyond. I would sit on the sidelines thinking about my father. Wishing he was sitting there with me watching his grandchildren play and excel in sports. My father himself was a star quarterback at Jordan High School in Long Beach, CA in the 1950’s, so I knew he would appreciate how I carried on the tradition of athletics in our family. I was thinking of how proud he would be of his grandchildren. How proud he would be of me as a father. I was thinking of how much he would love and adore my beautiful wife that stood by side through thick and thin. I was thinking of how much I missed my dad.
Come full circle to this day in time. My children now have children if their own and I am now that father I wish I had in my life. Just this week one of my granddaughters started playing softball and my son is the assistant coach. My daughter in-law works until 6:00 on the nights she practices, so my son needs some one to watch my grandson. I am the one that gets the honor of watching him. As I was sitting with my grandson in my lap, watching my granddaughter practice and my son coaching her, I was overwhelmed with emotions as I suddenly realized that what I had wanted for myself as a son, I was now giving to my son.
If you have any doubt as a parent, remember to be that parent you wanted in your life. If you had parents that supported you, continue on with that tradition. Remember our kids and grandkids are always watching us.