The Dad remembers dads past and future

for The Brooklyn Paper
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The other night, one of my daughters and I drove an adult friend home and I didn’t leave until I saw the front door safely shut. My daughter turned to me and said, “You’re such a dad.”

I smiled because one thing I remember about my own father is that he always waited to make sure someone he was dropping off was safely inside before pulling away. I suppose this is one of those little things I associated with his being a dad, so now I do it too.

No surprise, but Father’s Day turns my thoughts to my father and while I happily recall many of his habits and times we shared, I also find myself thinking about the ways I wish he had been different. I’m sure by the time I reached adolescence, and ever since, I’d shed the illusion my parents were perfect.

I’m sure my daughters have a list of things they’d like to change about me right now, including that bright red Hawaiian shirt I pull out of the closet once in a while, and my penchant for puns, but what are the things they will look back and wish had been different about me?

When it comes to my dad, I find myself thinking, “I wish he…”

Perhaps the most obvious is my regret he didn’t live to be at my wedding nor to meet my children. Truth be told, I also resented his health issues and the ways they limited his activity. He had rheumatoid arthritis, a sometimes debilitating autoimmune disorder that forced a number of surgeries on him, leaving his feet and hands damaged and painful. Though he served in the Navy before my birth, we could never play catch or a game involving anything but the simplest motions. His fragility and impairment always embarrassed me in front of my friends and placed limits on the things we could do together.

When I think about him, it makes me wonder how my girls will look back at me through the lens of memory. What will they dream was different about their dad?

No matter how hard I try, I can’t know, really, how my daughters experience me and our time together. I slog through being a parent without really knowing the impact I’m having and my girls, too, won’t really understand the reverberations I’m causing until they have some adult perspective and more experience under their belts.

There were a number of years my dad and I went to a movie, played a board game, or tinkered with a chemistry set each weekend — times I recall fondly. I see pieces of him in me that I am thankful for.

Someday, when my daughters idle nearby, making sure their friends get safely inside, I hope they will think of me, and in so many other ways as well.

This year, Father’s Day feels like an acknowledgement of the mysteries and enormous uncertainties that come with the job and the unknowable rewards that are years away.

Updated 6:32 pm, June 12, 2014
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