There’s going to be a gathering of three clans at the home of my eldest daughter and son-in-law this coming Father’s Day—Burt, Cherry, and Whittington. With a combined age of 233 years, the three patriarchs (of whom I am one) boast of seven children (four of whom are themselves fathers) and nine grandchildren in total (some of whom are shared).
Those grandchildren, in addition to their patriarchal lineages, share ancestry from six families on the distaff side—Arnold, Eaton, Romig, Rowsell, Sakeris, and Wrigglesworth. We are a discrete gathering, to be sure, but one big family, and it will be a happy coming-together.
Father’s Day has changed for me since I was a child, the eldest of five siblings. In the beginning, I suspect I didn’t truly know what we were celebrating, given that all of us loved our father every day. It was simply a party-day for some reason, and we all joyfully joined in to present Dad with our homemade gifts and cards. He appreciated those more, I think, than the presents we purchased for him as we grew older—although he always had a softness for candy.
It wasn’t until I became a father myself that I began to appreciate what it meant to be somebody’s Daddy. The enormous responsibility that entails was never lost on me, but it paled in comparison to the happiness and sense of fulfilment it brought. And so, as my own daughters grew into young women, so too grew my appreciation of my own father and his role in shaping my life.
He lived into his 92nd year, mentally sharp to the end, and never lost his sense of humour. Near the end, my mother asked him in a gentle whisper if he’d like her to sing to him. “Not particularly!” he whispered back, the ghost of a smile gracing his face.
She sang him out, anyway, as he must have known she would.
Until I became one, fathers were always older men than I. With remarkably few exceptions, I remember the fathers of my childhood friends being much like my own father—distant at times, there when it mattered, working-men dedicated to providing for their families. They embarrassed us on some occasions, swelled our hearts with pride on others, and we never doubted their love for us—except maybe occasionally when they wouldn’t let us borrow the car.
I felt the same about the man who became my father-in-law—whom we lost way too soon—and I consciously tried to model my own behaviour as a father on those two men who were most prominent in my life.
It seems to me, even now, that it took a whole lot longer for me to grow up and move out from under my father’s purview than it did for my daughters to do the same. My childhood lasted forever, or so I remember it. But my girls were there—those precious, sweet babies—for such a short time, and then, in the blink of an eye, they were gone to men of their own. To this day, I have a picture of the two of them, aged four and two, on my dresser.
“You’re not children anymore,” I tell them now. “But I’ll never stop being your father.” And I cling to that certainty.
I suspect the same sentiment is true for the other two patriarchs who’ll be joining me this coming Sunday. One of them has three sons, the other a son and daughter. All of those sons are themselves fathers now, which has led us to the startling realization (at least to me) that fathers are no longer the older men in our lives. With the passing of our own fathers, it is younger men who now fill the role.
And in that reality, we old men are blessed. The four sons, as fathers, are all loving husbands, dedicated to their families. Hard as it is to believe, two of them are already retired from their life’s work, and branching out into other pursuits. And without exception, they have loved and honoured their fathers and fathers-in-law from the beginning.
Over the next few years—years I trust I will be around to enjoy—I suspect there will be even younger fathers joining our combined families. Grandsons and the young men who will marry our granddaughters may, with their partners, bring more children into our midst, great-grandchildren who will grace our lives. At this point, I find it a happy circumstance that the number of fathers in our families is likely to increase.
By a matter of mere weeks in one case, and by a few years in the other, I am the eldest of the three patriarchs—the seniorem patrem familia, I suppose—but there is no doubt that such a distinction matters little. All three of us are held in equal esteem by our respective children and grandchildren.
This coming Sunday, if everyone were able to attend, including sons- and daughters-in-law (and perhaps boyfriends), we would number twenty-five in all—seven of whom would be fathers, three of those, grandfathers. Alas, some are too far distant, some grandchildren will be working, some in-laws may be with their own fathers at similar gatherings. But whether with us or not, all will be there in spirit, and we shall raise a glass to the fathers among us.
There may come a few moments on Sunday when we three old men will find ourselves sitting off to the side, watching and listening to the antics of the younger ones, no longer as integral a part of the hubbub as once we were—a few moments when we may look at one another, smile knowingly, and silently acknowledge our shared status, a status none of us, perhaps, ever imagined we would occupy.
In so many ways now, I believe I have become my father. And that accomplishment makes me happy. I think Dad would be happy, too.
Happy Father’s Day to all of us who are blessed to be fathers and sons.