Tag Archives: Father’s Day

Happy Father’s Day!

For the first time in our extended family’s history, we went on a weeklong family reunion to celebrate my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary this past week. Throughout our time together, I recognized the beauty of the five fathers in our family — my dad, my husband, my two brothers and the husband of our long ago German exchange student.

The fact that each of our five families has strong father figures is somewhat remarkable, but a Norman Rockwall portrait we are not. We have warts and, like every family out there, we have our share of challenges, disagreements and plain ugliness. However, this week, watching five men do their roles as husbands and dads with grace, love and caring that went above and beyond the call of duty was a beautiful thing.

Each of the fathers has a signature style — and there are generational and cultural differences to be sure. Nonetheless, their love for their children is evident and seems to have served to create happy, healthy children.

Anyone who has ever tried parenting knows that it is not for the faint of heart and is a constant learning experience. To celebrate Father’s Day, I asked the five most prominent fathers of my life the biggest thing they’ve learned thus far in their parenting journey — and what has made them a better father.

My youngest brother has been a father for about 18 months. He says he’s learned how quickly children learn, how much your life changes and how much you enjoy it. He believes patience has made him a better father.

His wife agrees that his patience makes him a better dad. “Also, he helps more than most fathers do. He changes diapers. He gets up with our son during the night. He gives him baths. He accepts responsibility for everything. Nothing is ‘my job’ because I’m the mother. He helps all the way around.”

Martin, our German friend, who has a four-year-old daughter, said the biggest thing he’s learned is that he can’t really plan things. “If you have a child, she has her own way,” he said. “If she’s not ready, you have to wait. Now, if we come late, which would have been a big problem for me before, I have to just be ok. As a father, I’ve learned that I have to be more relaxed.The last time we came to the States, it didn’t matter which hotel we stayed in. Now we have to plan in advance — on one side, you must plan more. On the other side, you cannot plan anything.”

His wife agrees. She says that her husband is always there for their daughter. “He’s always listening to her,” she said. “Before he thinks of himself, he’s thinking about her.”

My husband, whose daughters are 15 and 11, said becoming a father later in life probably made him more reflective. He’s recognizing, as our daughters grow, their personalities are developing in different paths. Because they’re so different, he has to deal with them differently.

My middle brother has three children, 22, 18 and 14. He said the biggest lesson he’s learned as a dad is much like the one my husband has recognized — each child has an independent personality and is totally different. Even so, he strives for consistency. “I’ve also learned that most things are small stuff, and don’t sweat the small stuff,“ he said. “And one last thing, every now and then, it’s good if your children are a little bit afraid of you.”

My dad, whose children are 33, 45 and 49, said he now believes that you never quit raising your children. “I have learned to look over things that would have upset me at one point,” he said. “I have learned to accept my children for what they are and not what I want them to be. I know they are grown, but still I worry about them and want to take care of them.”

My mom said that through the years my dad has always been there. “And, I never doubted his love for me or the children or grandchildren,” she said. “He works so hard, too hard sometimes — it’s all because he wants to provide for us.”

Having this kind of time to just hang out and be with our extended family was a gift that I believe we will all cherish for decades to come. Happy Father’s Day to each of them and the fathers in your family too.

LSS: A lesson from his father

My husband and I have been married 18 years. Through the years, I’ve gotten bits and pieces of the story I’m about to tell, but this week was the first time he ever told me the whole thing — and he gave me his blessings to share it here.

Back in 1969, a few weeks after the astronauts landed on the moon, my husband’s dad went into the hospital.

From everything I know about my husband’s father, I gather that he was a manly man. I know he loved strange meats and cheeses, opera and bullfighting.

“He had a bunch of opera records,” my husband said. “I got that from him. I like opera. I’m not a fan of bullfights, but I’m glad I got to see some. I love the music and the sounds of a bullfight — and you know I love strange meats and cheeses.”

That trip to the El Paso, Texas, hospital marked the first hospital stay of his life. Doctors wanted to determine the source of some stomach problems. My husband and his mom were waiting for his dad when he got out of exploratory surgery. Everything seemed fine.

They talked for a while, and then headed home to check on the family’s two younger children staying with neighbors.

At some point that night, the phone rang. It was one of those phone calls you don’t want to get. Someone from the hospital was calling saying things weren’t going well.

Come quick.

No one else in the family drove. They woke Mr. Ortiz, the neighbor. He took my husband and mother-in-law to the hospital. When they got to the hospital, the staff wouldn’t let them in the room where they had visited a few hours earlier. My husband remembers someone talking to his mom and her crying.

Eventually, they went home. Nothing in his life has been the same since.

That was the summer between his 8th and 9th grade years. In 8th grade, he had been student body president and involved in all sorts of extra-curricular activities. Once the funeral was done and the dust settled, he and his mom sat down and had a long talk.

He was the same age as our oldest daughter is now.

“Think about Greer (our daughter) right now,” he said to me last week. “She doesn’t have a clue about the ramifications of the light bill not getting paid. She doesn’t even think about it. The lights go on by magic. We stop and eat at a restaurant, and she orders whatever she wants. It’s all magic. Back then, when my mom and I figured it all out, I remember thinking, ‘Oh, you mean if I don’t do this, the lights won’t go on? What do we do?’ Well, I got a paper route.”

So began my husband’s long career in newspapers — and many other life lessons.

“I became more aware of everything around me because I became responsible. Childhood was over,” he said. “All of a sudden it wasn’t about me anymore. I wasn’t bitter. That was just the way it was. As a matter of fact, in a strange way, it gave me more reason to succeed — to be good at what I was doing because I wasn’t doing it just for me anymore.”

He had thrown a paper route before, but the short route was to earn money to buy model airplanes. He refers to the job he got after his dad died as “a real paper route” — 100 papers every afternoon. He’d pick them up a block from his high school and walk the mile or so up the mountain throwing papers on both sides of the street. He switched to a morning route his sophomore year in an effort to be available for after-school activities.

By the time he graduated high school, he went to work for the newspaper full-time.

Early in our conversation, I asked my husband what he thought his dad taught him. He was stumped.

“When your parent dies and you’re that young, there are a lot of things that you plan to do together or thought you’d do, but we never got to do,” he said.

By the time he got to the part of the story of how his life changed after his dad died, he had come up with an answer to my question.

“Maybe that’s what my dad taught me — to get up and go to work every single day.”

He paused.

“Or maybe it was something more. Maybe somewhere along the way, I figured out what my dad knew all along. He was a man who never complained — which may explain why he was so quiet! Even so, I believe he taught by example that life is about happily doing whatever you have to do.”

Gracias por la lección, Papi.

(Jan Risher’s column, Long Story Short, runs in The Sunday Advertiser. Email her at jan@janrisher.com.)

LSS: A red-letter day

Today is a red-letter day,” the high school principal said over the intercom system long, long ago.
I was a high school junior back then. I didn’t notice the kids around me snicker when he said it. Maybe they did, but more than likely, the folks in my homeroom weren’t paying attention. Later that day, I realized the principal’s “red-letter day” comment had legs.
In the way high school students can turn an innocent comment into a cult phenomena, many students were repeating the phrase over and over.
I didn’t get it.
I thought, “In fact, it is a red-letter day. We’re playing our archrival in football. We’ve got a big pep rally. It’s crazy dress day. What’s not red letter about it?”
My friends, who were enjoying the red-letter silliness, noticed that I didn’t get it and, to their credit, they tried to shield me from it—the way people try to shield the innocent.
Not that I was innocent, but still, in this one case, my friends went above and beyond the call of duty and tried to have their red-letter day fun when I wasn’t around. Perhaps more than I realized myself, they knew the high school principal and I had more in common than was cool for me to admit or acknowledge.
I suppose I had heard the principal use the expression before.
A red-letter day. The expression comes from medieval times. Even back then, calendars had special days and dates printed in red ink.
In lots of ways, I suppose that my high school principal taught me a lot about embracing occasions. He tried to teach students the beauty of turning blasé moments that could have passed without anyone thinking twice into moments that could linger for a lifetime. He was one to take bold steps, rarely holding back. For me, watching him pull off crazy stunts no one else would have tried was contagious.
I couldn’t help it. I had to try them too.
The truth was that I had been paying attention to that particular high school principal for a lot longer than the morning announcements lasted.
He was my dad.
I knew the cold hard fact of the matter was that students were going to rib the principal to some degree. I thought it was kind of sweet that my “red-letter” friends realized a split-second too late that they were having good-natured fun in front of me. They tried to cover up the way kids do, but we all knew the score. I wanted them to know I didn’t mind. However, I didn’t want to betray my dad either. We all silently agreed to agree that I didn’t hear it.
In the weird way these things work, because of that flash of a red-letter moment that no one else likely remembers, the phrase has stayed with me much more than it would have.
Today is a red-letter day. That high school principal taught me that turning just another day into a red-letter one was energy worth spending—no matter what anyone else thought about the effort. He knew how to drum up excitement. He knew how to organize something and get other people on board. Truth be told, making an occasion or a party out of something that could have been boring or humdrum is a gift that served him well throughout my growing up years. That ability is a gift that continues to serve him through to this very day. Though my efforts often pale in comparison, the perspective of age has taught me what my friends probably realized back then—my dad and I have a lot in common.
In my house, like the one where I grew up, we are of the mind that there is nothing wrong with having a celebration whether it be organized to the nth detail or spur of the moment.
And on this day, I have all the faith in the world that celebrating my dad and his day will be a red-letter day too. We will make it that way.