It’s been 32 years, more than enough time to raise a child to maturity, since I’ve celebrated Father’s Day. My father died in 1982, when I was 20, so I have a very clear memory of him, unlike my niece, whose own father — my brother Jonathan — died when she was 2. And my mother was almost 30 and had three children of her own when my grandfather passed away. She remembers the man she calls “the first and best love of my life” as if it were just yesterday that he coaxed her to sleep with “You Are My Sunshine.”
My mother and I are the lucky ones, with memories to sustain us in the absence of arms to embrace and a voice to comfort. My niece has only glimpses of a life culled from snapshots and third-party anecdotes. It’s not enough, because my brother loved her with his whole being and she will never quite understand that passion.
I, on the other hand, was blessed to be the firstborn child of a man who didn’t look at gender before he decided to fall in love with his offspring. He often told the story that he waited and waited and waited to pick me from the hospital nursery, choosing “the best.” This was his way of letting me know that I was special, and that he selected a girl on purpose.
Later on, it occurred to me that waiting and waiting and waiting, as he said, could also mean that there were slim pickin’s left at the hospital and I was the infant equivalent of marked-down baked goods, but I’m fairly certain this was not his intention. Not at all, given the way he treated me growing up.
Why am I writing these things? Yes, today is Fathers Day, which provides me with an opportunistic moment to wax poetic about the men I’ve known and, platonically, loved. But I don’t need a Hallmark holiday for that. Celebration of good men is never dependent on the whims of marketing geniuses, just as being grateful for mama or being appreciative of secretaries (oops, “administrative assistants”) is not a once-a-year obligation. It’s something we harbor inside of us, in our deepest recesses, or we don’t. When we don’t, artificial cards and what my Italian compares call frasi fatti, empty words, mean less than nothing.