With Gratitude, On Father’s Day

My father and mother sit astride his tractor on their land in Oroville, Calif. Circa early 90s.

The relationship between a father and son is complicated.

Some sons idolize their fathers, others hate them. For some, the relationship is somewhere in between.

Because the job of a father is to not only take care of and protect his family, but to prepare his children for their lives after they leave the security of that nest. That goes doubly so for fathers and sons.

If a father has been raised in a rough environment, his view of the world is a lot different than it would be otherwise. He sees the world as a tough place, and to prepare his son for the world, he often feels he has to be tough on him, to make him tough. That’s love in a sense, but it often doesn’t feel like love when the son is experiencing it.

My dad, circa 1942.

My relationship with my father was complicated as well. Dad grew up during the Depression, fought in World War II, was decorated for valor, and struggled through hard times to take care of his family. He wasn’t the kind of father that was affectionate and sensitive. He never talked about his feelings. I remember once when he accidentally smashed my finger in a car door and he said, “I’m sorry.” I was so shocked to hear him say those words–words I had never heard him say before–that I completely forgot about the pain in my hand.

But I was different than him. I was a reader, an artist, a poet. I was in touch with my feelings. And now I realize that as hard it was for me to not have a father who would share his emotions with me, it probably was hard for him to have a son that didn’t turn out the way he was either.

But that’s the way it goes with being a father. When your child is born, you have no control over what your child’s personality is going to be like: not really. You just have to raise them up with good values, strong beliefs, true principles. You have to make sure they have food on the table, a roof over their heads, and shoes on their feet. And you need to make sure they know that they are loved.

That’s an important part in all of this, maybe the most important part. My father didn’t tell us that he loved us. But he showed it every day. He was there for us, every day. Not every family can make that claim. When I wish that he had been more like me and expressed himself more, I have to stop myself and say, no, not really. His was a different time, he went through completely different things. And he did the best he could.

He made me the man I am today. And Dad, I am grateful to you. Happy Father’s Day.