“For many of us, our fathers show us by the example they set the kind of people they want us to become,” President Barack Obama said in a 2012 Father’s Day speech. “Whether biological, foster or adoptive, they teach us through the encouragement they give, the questions they answer, the limits they set and the strength they show in the face of difficulty and hardship.”
My words alone, I was sure, would never be enough to put a human face to Obama’s words for this Father’s Day tribute, so I enlisted the help of others, all of whom were eager to share.
Holly, age 29, lost her father to ALS in 2012. When I asked her for a comment on her father, she answered with a heartfelt little poem. “Living as an angel strong and free. Flying like a bird, that’s the way he wanted life to be.”
Twins Melanie and Joanie, 32, lost their father in October 2016. They both agree that although he projected himself as strong and stern, he was a softy at heart, loved his family and would lend a helping hand at any time and to anyone.
Ray, 45, recalled how his dad, who died in 2013, always made time to play catch or soccer with him and attended his extracurricular activities after work, even when he was tired.
This year Father’s Day will be bittersweet for Gov. Larry Hogan. His father passed away in April. “My dad was my hero and the man that I am most proud of,” the governor said in an email. “He was ‘a man in the arena’ – he knew victory and defeat, and he stood up and fought even when the odds were stacked against him. He spent his entire life fighting valiantly for the things he believed in, and he never gave up fighting, right until the very end.”
Don Briggs, mayor of Emmitsburg, said that his father was bigger than life and athletic. He was “reticent and at times awkward in expressing his feelings,” the mayor told me. “He was most comfortable speaking to me through athletics.” Brigg’s dad was there for his son’s football games, from CYO youth games through his college games. “He nudged through example and support,” the mayor said.
My 9-year-old grandson’s accolades about his father are simple. “Dad spends time with us and he lets us do things he didn’t do when he was a kid, like play football.”
“I didn’t know it growing up,” my nephew Adam, 29, told me, “but my father’s discipline then made me a better person now.”
Jennifer, 44, told me about a white-water rafting trip 20 years ago. “I spent such quality time with my dad, and it happened at the moment I most needed to get away. He is always there when I need him.”
County Executive Jan Gardner’s father turned 89 years old in April. “My dad is calm, patient, has an incredible sense of humor and a dry wit. He can always tell a good story and is quick with a quip. He knows all kinds of history and trivia, and still reads the newspapers in their entirety. I could go on and on.” She added, “He taught me patience, honesty, kindness and duty.”
Stepfathers? My stepfather married my mother and they had two children of their own. My brother and I were always treated with the same fairness, involvement, concern and love that he gave to his own children.
My daughter has a stepfather of her own, my husband. “Being a dad is about more than just the biological factor,” she told me. “It’s about everything from being the man who chauffeured me and my friends to the prom 25 years ago to being the man who came to my rescue with jumper cables two weeks ago.”
“... to being the guy who played catch with me on a regular basis,” my son Mike added. We even took our gloves and a baseball on vacations. We still have great conversations about America’s favorite pastime.
Yes, fathers-in-law, too. Jeanne shared this fond memory about hers. When he learned that his son and future daughter-in-law were going to wait two years before getting married just to make sure they had enough money, he said, “If you wait until you have enough money, you will never do anything!”
My own father-in-law, a hardworking farmer all of his life, was soft-spoken and not particularly demonstrative, but somehow everyone in his life knew they were loved. After he retired, he spent the rest of his life proving it.
The first-time fathers I talked to gushed about their new status. Matt, who welcomed fatherhood on May 19, said, “It is the greatest joy! Words can’t even describe the love you feel for your child.”
Brian, my niece’s husband, became a father on March 16. He told me, “Coming home and seeing Rylee smile puts everything into perspective as to what’s truly important.”
Again, the eloquent words of Barack Obama: “What I’ve realized is that life doesn’t count for much unless you’re willing to do your small part to leave our children — all of our children — a better world. Any fool can have a child. That doesn’t make you a father. It’s the courage to raise a child that makes you a father,” (2008 Father’s Day speech).
Patricia Weller thanks all those who shared their thoughts, and wishes fathers everywhere a happy Father’s Day. Weller writes from Emmitsburg and can be reached at email@example.com.