Reflecting on my wonderful, hard-working dad on this Father’s Day is full of bittersweet memories.
It’s a special Father’s Day weekend for my friend Paul.
Two weeks ago, his wife Mona gave birth to twins, Lara and Lennon. What makes it special is Paul turns 49 later this summer and the thought of being a dad, let alone married for the first time, was something he couldn’t envision even five years ago. Now it’s all he can think about and worries about whether he’ll be a good dad.
I told him he has nothing to worry about. Sure, you’ll be fearful about every little thing that happens, especially in their infancy, and make mistakes along the way. But as long as love is your guide, you’re going to do a great job raising your children. Enjoy the journey, Paul.
Maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about, and I guess I shouldn’t be the one who gives such advice. After all, I’ve never been married and never have had children and not sure that I ever will since I turn 52 in August.
It will probably be the one regret in my life, but we have to choose. Unfortunately, I wish we could lead two lives to go down different paths and see what life brings us, but that’s not the case.
My dad died at the same age I am now. I was 18 at the time, and it was tough enough dealing with it and taking on the responsibility of caring for my mom afterward until she died a decade ago.
You hate to bring a child into the world when you’re in your 50’s, only to not have them grow up with a dad. Surely every child benefits from the influence of a father growing up. I was lucky having the dad I did. If I ever got married, he would have been my best man. I was fortunate that my dad served as the biggest influence in my life and my best friend.
He treated me as a son and not a friend but there’s no one in my life that I enjoyed spending more time with. He was my coach in Little League and my boss when I worked with him at his swimming pool construction company during the summers in high school and college, starting when I was 14.
When he had multiple jobs, I always asked to be on the one he would go. In high school when I had braces and had to go to orthodontics appointments in a town 15 miles away, I would hang out with him after the appointment rather than rush back to school.
I’m glad I did since I lost him so early in my life.
My dad was a joy to be around. My friends felt the same way and enjoyed being around him as well. They called him Ralph because my dad was the spitting image of Ralph Kramden, the Jackie Gleason character who portrayed a bus driver always looking for opportunities to make the life of him and his wife, Alice, better. Not only did my dad look like Kramden, he had a similar personality in that they both gregarious, bigger than life and spoke loud. I’m laughing just thinking about it.
Everything my dad pursued with his businesses he had was to better life for his family. He was driven by that pursuit to be a financial success and provide the comforts of living for our middle class family in central Illinois. He fell short of his goal before he died of a heart attack at age 51. He had just moved the family to Texas to relocate his business in 1981 to take advantage of the weather and economic growth of Dallas.
I’m sure he felt he fell short in his goal to take care of us. It was tough after he died. We weren’t left with much, and we had a lot to overcome to stay on our feet at the time. But I learned that a dad can give a whole lot more than money. He provided for our security. We had a roof over our head and ate well.
What’s more important for a dad is to show he loves and cares about you and has confidence in you and encourages you to become whatever you want to do in life. He showed me how to treat everyone with respect, no matter what. He’s someone that believes in you and someone you can count on and go to when you need advice and can learn from his experiences.
I missed getting that advice over the years and sharing my accomplishments and experiences with him. And it continues to leave a big hole.
Despite that, what remains and will never leave is the love that a dad shows you and how that has shaped and molded you. It builds a confidence and serenity that’s worth much more than money.
I’d like to say “thank you” to my dad and to wish him a happy Father’s Day.
And Paul, this is the first of many happy Father’s Days for you. Your children are lucky to have someone who will love and care for them as you will. Don’t worry. Lara and Lennon will thank you for that for the rest of their lives. You’re their one and only dad. And that means everything.