This time of year everyone has a great dad. If your dad is dead or very old, he has become a small legend, a tiny statue with a bobblehead that you can keep on your dashboard so when you pull up to a hot car that your dad might have appreciated, the little guy can bob his head in recognition. It’s the least you can do. Put him there, on the dash, where he can ride along and enjoy the scenery. Automotive-wise.
My dad gets better every year and he’s been gone, as they say, for eleven years. I’ve told the story of our long estrangement many times. He is the hero of that story because after many years of wondering why he didn’t come find me when I was lost, he finally did. He stopped having my mother be the maintainer of family relationships and he took matters into his own hands. He wrote me a letter. He said he was sorry. It was as if he had lifted a wrecked car off me, by himself with no help, and had driven many thousands of miles to do it, knowing he was the only one who could.
It was the only thing he ever needed to do for me.
It was heroic.
It’s what I remember about him. He saved me. It’s what dads are supposed to do.
And then I wonder if I really believe that. Does this mean that dads are off the hook for the day to day business of raising children? That they just have to pick the right time and place to make the grand gesture and become heroic in their children’s minds forever?
How is that fair to those of us, mothers and fathers, who miss the grand gesture because we’re grinding out tonight’s homework help and worrying about whether our children have enough or good friends? “You just want them to be happy,” I remember my husband saying to me as if it was a minor goal, not central to our mission as parents. I remember feeling apologetic. I did want them to be happy and maybe that meant I was taking my eyes off the prize. I don’t know.
Maybe I’m wrong because he wasn’t really the kind of guy who would let someone inside his head, but I don’t believe my father ever thought thirty seconds about whether I was happy. I don’t know what he thought about. Besides his business. He thought about his business.
And then at one crucial juncture, he thought about me. And I guess that’s what I’m saying. It’s not about all fathers. It’s only about mine. He saved me. That’s what he was supposed to do. And I’m glad for it.