I have been privileged to know quite a few of the former and thankfully very few of the latter - speaking both relatively and spiritually. Being someone who likes to dwell on the positive, I think I'll stick with memorializing the good'uns, thank you very much!
I grew up with The Best Dad in the World, yet not only did I have to share him with eight siblings, but an entire church community. You see, I wasn't always Roman Catholic - I was a small town preachers brat!
We belonged to a denomination that ordains, but doesn't pay their ministers, so Dad also held a full time job. Needless to say, I didn't see as much of him as I would've liked. When he was home and not engrossed in
writing his next sermon,
visiting the sick,
having a funeral
or counseling someone
or any number of church related functions or activities -
- some of which happened right in the middle of our living room -
... then I followed him around like a lost puppy. To his credit, he never seemed to mind.
I tried hard to please him, growing out my long, blond hair till I could sit on it, even though the weight of it gave me headaches - just because he liked to "see his girls looking like girls".
I learned to love pea soup, liver & onions, bleu cheese, and even horse radish and mustard on fried eggs by imitating this man that I more than adored. I liked to think that I was his favorite because of it.
As a young adult, I'm sure I disappointed him, but he loved me enough to let me make my own mistakes, and never gloated when I finally came to my senses. And even though it must have been hard for him to see me convert from the faith of my childhood to one I could embrace as my own as an adult, he has never uttered a negative word.
Anywhooo... when Dad was home, he would often take us kids fishing, but more often than not, the one showing me how to bait a hook or reel in a line was my Eldest Brother.
I worshiped that boy, nine years my senior, more a surrogate father than anything. He spent countless hours teaching me to
clean a mess of fish,
flush a rabbit,
play pinochle, chess, carom and other board games,
drive a tractor (and car)
and sing in harmony.
I was crushed when he grew up, got married and moved away, but immensely proud watching the ease with which he parented his own children...
Especially when he was left to parent them alone...
I mustn't forget Grandfathers. Mom's Pop taught me to love poetry, often reciting pages from memory, though I'm pretty sure he never had much of an education. I didn't get to see him often, but when I did, the scent of cherry pipe tobacco and stories of ant lions held me enthralled. I was never quite sure if his tall tales were true, but I was always happy to take the bait.
Dad's Dad raised sheep and kept bees, always carried BlackJack gum or anise candy in his pocket, and bounced dozens of grandchildren (and great-grands and even a few great-greats!) on his seemingly tireless"horse" foot. He had the biggest hands I've ever seen on a man, rugged from hard outdoor work, yet he was as tender hearted and gentle as a newborn lamb.
I would venture to guess he may have held the world record number of cribbage games played throughout a lifetime, considering he played more often than he ate in a day and lived nearly a century. One thing about cribbage - its a tie that binds. I have now played with five generations of family... and think of my dear Grandfather with every game I play.
For nearly twenty years now the Father of my children has figured most prominently. He is the New Best Dad in the World. From the moment he loved them into being, he
prayed and provided for our Critters,
sang to them,
played with them,
disciplined and encouraged them,
and loved them better than I had ever dreamed possible.
He recently took up fishing - not because he particularly enjoys the sport, but as another means of providing for his family. He takes Fatherhood very seriously. And, if occasionally the weight of responsibility saps a little joy from his day, looking into those five beautiful faces brings back both joy and perspective.
Fifty years ago, and this could have been a scene from Husband's childhood... if you more than double the number of kids and hours a day my Father-in-law had to work to support them. Husband remembers the firm hand he was raised with more often than not, and strives to have a deeper relationship with our Critters. But how can I do anything but admire the man who helped to mold him into the incredible man he is today?
For the last fourteen years Father-in-law has been widowed, and though I still miss my Mother-in-law dearly, I have loved seeing Father-in-law grow closer to his children in ways he never would have with her buffer.
I would be remiss not to mention the ecclesiastical Fathers who have most impacted my life.
Father J. was THE BIGGEST E-van-gelical, Ec-u-menical Charismatic Catholic Christian ever.
Father T. was erudite and witty, a contemplative homilist, fantastic musician and cook.
Father S. was a straight-laced, traditionalist who didn't sugarcoat anything for anybody.
Each of them was exactly what I needed at the time...
Father J. reeled me in.
Father T. hooked me.
Father S. not only preached, but showed what an angler the Devil is...
So where are each of these exceptional Fathers now?
Fathers J., T. and S. are respectively retired, relocated and removed (unjustly, I believe) from active ministry.
Father-in-law is 90 years old, and still works in his wood shop - when he's not reading the latest thriller with the Kindle ap on his IPad.
Husband is, of course, still in the throes of parenting our brood. And I venture to say he will continue to hold the title of Best Dad forever - or at least until Only Son gets his feet wet...
...but let's not rush it!
Dad's Dad and Mom's Pop have both passed from this world. I miss them every day.
Eldest Brother is helping to raise his step children, and as his oldest takes the plunge this summer, looking forward to grandchildren someday.
And my Dad? Well... he's battling cancer. Prayers and otherwise good health have helped him beat the odds so far. He put in another huge garden, and hopefully this year he'll be able to enjoy the fruit of his labor since he's declined further chemo.
And... when I called recently to wish he and my Mom a Happy Anniversary, he was out fishing...
(Note* I hope all of the other Great Dads I know - Brother & Brother-in-laws, Uncles, Cousins, Nephews, Godfathers and Friends will understand that they are also included in this tribute. Your children and the world at large are better because of your influence.)