It’s Father’s Day, and this year, and I’m thinking less about what to give and more about what I’ve been lucky enough to get.
A grandpa who sadly died even before I was born, leaving me his name and the stories his six children came to tell. The Turkish fruit and vegetable peddler who managed to feed them all on eggplants and tomatoes and squash. The strict but loving father who stayed up late at night until all his children were safely home. The dad with little schooling who valued education and wanted only to see his children better themselves.
And another, a tailor, who like Fiddler’s Motel, was never a wealthy man, but a rich one, with four sons and one daughter and then 12 grandchildren. His tiny shop filled with rainbow hued fabrics and bins overflowing with strings of glittery sequins and shiny buttons. His pockets stuffed with penny candy to choose, a stick of Juicy Fruit or a Hershey’s chocolate or a spicy cinnamon drop for the kinderlach.
They worked hard, these fathers, making their way in a new land, learning a new language, holding on to their past while slowly becoming Americans. They succeeded in the children they raised, in the values they passed on, in the generations that followed. They understood what it meant to provide for their families, a roof over their heads and food on the table, a loving wife at their side.
My dad was his father’s son, and more. The youngest of four brothers, who wanted to play stick ball on the street rather than go to cheder. He respected his parents while striking out on his own. He married and started a family, went to night school to finish his college degree, worked his way up the corporate ladder. But he still found time to teach my sisters and me how to bat, how to dive, how to throw a ball. He was there for family vacations, for birthdays and graduations and anniversaries. He walked me down the aisle at my wedding and gingerly held our first child, his first grandchild.
He taught me what commitment means, to wife and family, the value of hard work, of planning ahead, of balancing my checkbook, of living within my means, of having a plan B.
And then dad took on a new meaning, as my husband and I became parents, too young to really understand the responsibility that we had taken on. We learned on the job, eventually adding three more kids to our brood, while modeling our own parents, and theirs, with a fierce commitment to family, and each other. Sure this dad spent long hours at the office and had less of the day to day searching for lost sneakers, packing lunches, refereeing squabbles, overseeing homework. But he was always there, ready to listen, to counsel, to support, and finding time to coach the softball team, teach the kids how to drive, take them on college tours. And still, now, to celebrate their successes, commiserate their disappointments, to offer advice when asked.
And to watch with me as the next generation re-imagines those traditional roles of parenting and conceives of new ways to be a dad. More engaged, more involved, more responsible for the everyday, especially now, with both partners working and parenting from home, juggling Zoom meetings and deadlines with kids, little and big. Taking turns in the kitchen, throwing in a load of laundry, playing Candyland or painting Mother’s Day cards or baking cinnamon buns.
And so it goes, one dad to another, the love you give that is passed forward.
The best gift to give, and to get.