Father’s Day

I’m sharing some belated Father’s Day reflections this week because I was out of town for the paternal celebration. Fortunately, I was with my kids, and they got to see their grandfathers during our brief family vacation, which made me contemplate the importance of adult males in the lives of today’s children, and which made me more than glad to be a dad.

One grandfather lives in Northeast Ohio, near Cleveland, so it took us about fourteen hours to make our way to his part of the Midwest. It was worth the trouble, and the road construction, for we had some memorable experiences awaiting us. Because my son, Luke, has become a big fan of Ken Griffey, Jr., Grandpa Mike scored some tickets to see the Cleveland Indians battle the Cincinnati Reds at Jacobs Field. The Reds’ All-Star Griffey didn’t disappoint, belting a three-run home run to straight away center field, tying the game and eventually sending it into extra innings. But that wasn’t the biggest highlight. About an inning later, Luke began to show the wear of a long day, whining about how bad our seats were for catching foul balls. After reminding him that his grandfather was more than generous in providing such great seats (about 15 rows up, right behind home plate), I tried to convey that there were about 35,000 fans who would walk out of the ballpark without catching a foul ball, and that we’d probably be among them. Moments after I said this, a foul ball cracked off the bat of a left-handed batter and careened off of the upper deck façade. It shot toward our section, bounced off the hands of the men in front of us, and landed at Luke’s feet. As he secured it in his glove and stood up straight, the rest of the fans were still glancing around, wondering who had it. I told Luke that the person who catches it should show everyone, so he tossed it in the air. As it popped back into his glove (actually my old little league hand-me-down glove), the crowd cheered him. It’s always a treat to see a young kid get a foul ball at a major league game. For his grandfather and for me, the treat was sweeter.

As a dad, I’m glad I was there.

After the ball game, our family stayed on Grandpa Mike’s boat on Lake Erie. The lake was too choppy to take the boat out, but Luke caught six fish off the dock (more than his dad ever caught), and our three-year-old, Hannah, spent most of her time in the marina swimming pool. I witnessed a significant event in her aquatic development, as she learned that in order to dunk her head under water, she had to blow air out of her mouth or nose, making the sound of a motor boat. So, we spent afternoons in the pool playing “motorboat mouth” until our lips tingled, our fingertips were shriveled, and our shoulders were sunburned. And my daughter found one more thing in this world she didn’t need to feel afraid of.

As a dad, I’m glad I was there.

On our return swing through Chicago, we took our family to see a blues music festival in the suburb where I grew up. This gave our children an opportunity to be with their other grandfather, my dad, who died of his second heart attack in 1982 and is buried in a quaint cemetery near my old neighborhood. During an impromptu family meeting as our van tooled down the road, our kids revealed that yes, they’d like to visit their grandpa’s grave. What the children saw upon our arrival was not a site for somber silence, but an expanse of grass and flowers and marble structures in interesting shapes. So, they were out of the van in a flash, skipping and playing tag between the erect tombstones. Since we were the only ones there, we let them play and saved the “teachable moment” for the car ride home where we could discuss cemetery decorum. What some would have seen as borderline sacrilege – our children dancing around my father’s grave in a scene resembling the Oz munchkins after the demise of the wicked witch of the west – I saw as a beautiful moment where they could come as close as possible to playing with a grandfather they could never meet.

After the frivolity waned, my son pulled me aside and whispered, “Dad, could I see his body?” Since he’s seen other living things perish out on the farm, and because he has a keen interest in the science of the natural world, I felt that I could address the issue candidly. So, I explained that, out of respect, we don’t typically dig up human bodies, and that a human body decays just like a dead bird or those carrion carcasses he’s seen on the Nature Channel. He seemed to get it. If not, I’m sure he’ll have more questions, and we’ll talk again then.

As a dad, I’m glad I was there.

And now we’re home and falling back into our routine. For me, this means taking my children to tee-ball or swimming or tennis, or playing a nightly song on my guitar for them as they fall asleep. Or it could be something unscheduled and spontaneous like a treasure hunt, a walk to the creek, or rock-and-roll dancing in our living room. Blessed with such opportunities to be with my kids, I cherish even the most miniscule moments. I realize that it took us several days and many miles to help my children grow closer to their grandfathers, but I can build our bonds right here, right now.

As a dad, I’m glad I’m here.