Father’s Day 2012

My kids and wife brought me breakfast in bed–good black coffee, some egg whites with chopped peppers and Sriracha–and four hand-made cards. There were gifts, too: a couple of beers and limes in a beach bucket (perhaps a hint that it’s time to revisit the coast) and a big red-orange mylar balloon that exclaims, “I love you, Dad!”

I can see each of these things from where I sit, because I haven’t quite willed myself out of bed yet. The family let me sleep late before bombarding me with laughs and love this morning. They shook me from a dream in which a good friend (but not my best friend–a joke said friend would get if he read this) asked me to write him quiz questions about the elements of being a good father. It’s pretty clear where my mind is today. Even my subconscious is on on the act.

The Father’s Day balloon picked a clever place to float this morning. It now hangs directly over the tri-fold color brochure we handed out at my dad’s funeral six months ago. That thing has been sitting on the dresser ever since, and I don’t know how long it will be before I put it away. There are photos of my dad all over my house and computer, but somehow that brochure needs to stay there. For a while at least.

In the months that have passed since Dad died, I’ve sat down to write about him more times than I can count. I’ve wanted to recount in grueling detail the hell of dealing with a cooperate behemoth masquerading as a small town funeral home that messed up and buried my dad in the wrong place. I’ve wanted to take you back through my dad’s life. I’ve wanted to pass on the lessons he taught my brother and me. I’ve wanted to do all that because I’m a writer, and I think he was proud of me for that, as much as I failed to recognize it for a very long time. But, I’ve not been able to do it. In fact, in the past six months, it’s been a struggle to write just about anything.

And so today, I thought I’d write it all–just spend the whole day locked in a room pounding on a keyboard, ruining my MacBook’s keyboard with tears, coffee, and whatever further liquid inducement I needed to push through it.

But for days as I thought about it–and even this morning when I woke up–my mind kept returning to this.

That is part of the chase scene from Fletch, the “Fred The Dorf Dorfman” gag that, while funny, isn’t even the best scene in the movie. Still, I can’t think of that scene without thinking of my dad. I remember being with him the first, second, even third times he watched this movie with me, and I remember how hard–how genuinely–he laughed at this scene. I don’t know why this is stuck in my brain. It’s been probably 20 years since I watched this with my dad, but when I think of this scene, I think of him laughing until he had tears in his eyes.

It’s taken me a long time to figure out why I keep coming back to that scene–not the film, but the one of my dad in front of our TV laughing at Chevy Chase. It’s this: it was genuine happiness.

I now know how hard it is to be a dad. I know the stress, the fatigue, and the constant guard one has to stand. It is simultaneously the hardest and most rewarding job out there. It changes one’s personality. And–for better or worse–sometimes becoming a dad means cloistering away a very genuine part of yourself. It’s a defense mechanism, maybe. Or maybe something to which we have evolved for the betterment of the species. In any case, it’s hard to find the right temperature of light sometimes.

And so now as I think if my dad, I think about those exceptionally genuine moments where he found that perfect temperature. I think of a picture my mom snapped of my brother, dad, and me as we fell back into our swimming pool for the first time. I think of the smile on my dad’s face the first time he saw this new house. I think of him in uncontrolled red-faced fits of laughter. And it makes me so happy.

See, as dads, we spend a lot of time insisting that all we want is for our children to be happy. And that is true.

What I think I’ve failed to realize until now is that part of making our kids happy is letting them see us happy. I think back to an exceptionally happy childhood, and the best moments are not necessarily the ones where I was the happiest. They are the ones where my dad was laughing. They are the ones when my dad was at his happiest.

It’s been an hour since my kids dropped off the coffee and breakfast. Their mom saw a look in my eye and ran them to the store to buy groceries. She knows it’s a tough day for me, and she’s proceeding gently. I’ll admit, there is still a part of me that wants to crack open the cellophane around this beach bucket and get to work. But I won’t. I’m going to hit publish on this post, get up, and see what this Father’s Day has in store for me.

See, all I really want is for my kids to be happy. To do that, I think I’m going to have to show them just how happy I am…just like my dad did for me.