My fatherhood style falls somewhere between Robert Young of Father Knows Best and Ozzy Osbourne, bat biter, so it's always good for me to bounce ideas off other dads... even if I get back a twisted triangulation on my parental reality. I invited my friend Vern to join me for a pre-Father's Day drink at my favorite watering hole.
While I repeated my order of a non-fat, no foam, decaf latte to the bustling barista, Vern grumbled, "I thought you invited me for a drink? That generally indicates alcohol. This place reminds me of a library."
"Ssshhhhh!" he hissed to the silent room, dramatically swinging his arm towards the patrons juggling their paper cups of caffeine with their hand held work-detention devices. But it was not a blessing Vern dispensed; if he were a sorcerer, those customers would now be pole dancing strippers and Vern would be waving a wad of one-dollar bills.
You see, while we're about the same age, Vern and I have different perspectives on fatherhood. I had children later in my life, in my 40s, and my kids are now in elementary and middle school. Vern became a dad in his 20s, and his children are "all grown and flown" as he would say. Talking to Vern puts things in perspective.
"What was your favorite Father's Day?" I asked him.
Vern eyed me suspiciously, as if I knew some secret of his that I'd soon use to bludgeon him. Finally convinced of my inquiry's harmlessness, he replied, "When I gave my dad a cool skateboard... that was really for me."
"No, I mean, when you starred as the dad."
"Starred, hah! More like scarred," he snorted. "Let's see now, was it the time my son called --collect -- for money to cure the STD he got couch surfing in Europe... or when my daughter waited 'til Father's Day to tell me she was divorced... or was it those freakin' ties my lovely wife is so proud to give me year after year?"
Sensing he did not want to hear about my eager anticipation of Father's Day and how grateful I am to have young children at the serendipitous time when my maturity naturally urges me to focus on life's deeper philosophical and spiritual matters, I blurted out, "Bolo or bow?"
"Do they at least serve wine here?" he whined, staring at the café's behind-the-counter equipment. I shook my head, smiling. He frowned like a man trapped by points in the fine print.
"I exaggerate... a bit," admitted Vern. "It wasn't all bad. But buddy boy, don't get your hopes up. It's all part of the racket. Father's Day was invented by the greeting card industry to make some bucks."
Actually, Father's Day was conceived in 1910 by Sonora Smart Dodd, who wanted to honor her father, a single parent to six children. While Mother's Day was officially recognized in 1914, a similar day celebrating fathers was not received with equal enthusiasm. In 1957, U.S. Senator Margaret Chase Smith wrote to Congress that, "Either we honor both our parents, mother and father, or let us desist from honoring either one. But to single out just one of our two parents and omit the other is the most grievous insult imaginable." President Richard Nixon permanently established Father's Day in 1972.
"You're one grizzled grizzly bear, Vernon," I said, but my thoughts ran to how disappointment can often be measured as the distance between high expectations and the harshness of reality.
I watched Vern's eyes drinking in an attractive woman's walk to the counter. He looked back at me, then down into the tiny drinking hole punched into the plastic cap of his coffee cup.
"Don't get me wrong," said Vern. "I'd do it again in a New York minute."
But I didn't fully believe him. He seemed disappointed, deflated by fatherhood.
Fatherhood is a tough business. Most men are asked to become great dads at the very same time they're expected to make a mark in their careers. The boss wants them at work and the wife wants them at home. They're expected to be devoted diapering dads before they've stretched their wings, found out what really makes them tick, before sowing enough wild oats. They can feel imprisoned by their responsibilities, cheated out of and haunted by missed opportunities, real and fantasized.
"Hey," Vern changed the subject. "Let's go get ourselves a real drink."
"Not for me... places to go, faces to see." My place to go was my home, and my faces to see belong to my children and wife.
We walked outside and embraced one another in that NFL-certified masculine power handshake-shoulder-bump half hug.
"See ya," called Vern as he marched off down the street.
I waved goodbye, and couldn't resist saying to myself, "Wouldn't want to be ya."
Truth is, my life as a middle-aged father is super-charged by my kids. I'm never bored, lonely or without adventurous options that hold great meaning. I have more patience, more wisdom, more experience and, because I'm farther along my career path, more work-life flexibility. I already got my ya-yas out, so I'm truly ready to commit to a family life and willing to try my best at the grand experiment of being a conscious father.
Sure, my children will make mistakes and disappoint me... and I them. But they've already given me the best Father's Day gift: They made me their dad. Talking to Vern puts things in perspective.