Owners Manual for Fathers

Last week I received my instructional manual for fatherhood. It was a little late being delivered, (about 40 years) because the publisher wanted to include at no extra cost, a supplement, my grandfather’s manual. It was all part of a birthday present and party my family semi-surprised me with. They warned me a couple of days before the big event so I could get my best face together.

One of my presents was this most treasured book I now own, second only to the scriptures. It is a collection of letters from my children and grand children, and a few other close friends and relatives.

One of the beauties of the book is that the contributors were both candid and specific about their memories. As the saying goes, they listed the blessings they have enjoyed from having me as their father, along with some they did not enjoy. Paper routes on cold winter mornings, working on our little farm on a sweltering summer afternoon, milking the goats before we opened our presents Christmas morning; these were among the most forgettable memories of their growing up years.

They also remembered feeling supported by me in their aspiring dreams, and empathy when they struggled. One son remembered being so sick with rheumatic fever he couldn’t raise his head, so his dad bundled him up and gave him a “piggy shoulder” ride to at least watch his siblings sleigh down our backyard hill. All these memories and more touched the deepest part of where I live.

The book shouts out loud and clear what every parent knows. Some of our most memorable teaching moments are times we didn’t notice then and don’t remember now. One Sunday morning we were short three papers. I took the children to a nearby convenience store with a stack of papers in the rack outside. I dropped in the coins that opened the door. My daughter thought. Hey once we’re in there we can take as many papers as we want and only pay for one. I took three, shut the door, and then dropped in the coins to cover the other two. It was a visual she has never forgotten. Be honest, even when nobody is looking.

Another daughter was struggling with a book report for school. Since writing is part of what I do for a living, she figured I could whip it out for her fast and easy. Instead I helped her write it. She learned more than what the book taught in that report. One son and I. built his Cub Scout Pine Wood Derby race car together. The derby often brings out in dads the battle cry of fabled football coach Vince Lombardi, “Winning isn’t everything. Winning is the only thing.” Dad’s sometimes bond more with the car than with the kid. But my son and I combined our skills and thereby produced a singularly homely, overweight, ugly duckling which, dragging its spare tire, refused to even leave the starting line. We won runner up Mr. Congeniality and son. I had mercifully forgotten that night, but to my son it was a Gran Prix, Indianapolis 500 championship memory.

The book is full of these inconsequential life altering moments. The piggy back rides up to prayers and bed, the listening to a childhood tragedy such as being snubbed by a friend, the “Yo” hollered back to them when they needed me, later the holding and marveling of the grand babies they brought into the world were all so much more powerful and lasting than the platitudes I pontificated in Home Evening (although they remembered many more of them than I would have ever expected.)

But pardon me while I gush a little. The overall appreciation, patience, and love they had, and have for an imperfect specimen of a father/grandpa who is stumbling along pretty much making it up as he goes was humbling and gratifying to me. A guy can’t be all bad when gets to be the father of people like that. In my totally unbiased opinion, our children and the spouses they have succeeded in marrying are irrefutable evidence of superior parenting (ok, mostly on their mothers’ side.) And if that isn’t conclusive, let me tell you about my grand children. They personify a collection of superlatives that would drain a thesaurus dry Why just the other day one of my granddaughters said the cutest… Hey wait. Come back. I’m just getting started…