Today I want to talk about someone who often does not get enough credit for all that he does: Dad! Obviously, I talk about my mom a lot and people know that I was very close with her, but not many people know very much about my dad or the role he has played in my life. So in honor of Father’s Day, I wanted to focus on him.
For the past three years, we haven’t really celebrated Father’s Day. Come to think of it, for two of those three, I wasn’t even in town with my dad. I think in our minds we thought that since we generally ignore Mother’s Day, it wouldn’t be fair or just felt uncomfortable honoring just one parent. But my dad has been so much more than a dad to us; he has had to try to fill the place of another as well.
From the beginning, my dad has been one of the most involved people in my life. Now that there is some distance between me and my childhood and adolescent days, I can look back on those times and realize that for 20+ years, his world revolved around us. During his real estate days when both of my parents were working full-time, my dad made a point of taking us swimming once a week after school, no matter the season or how tired he was after a long day. He sang “You are my Sunshine, my only Sunshine” to me almost every night. And when I was just a baby, he would put me on his shoulders and we would dance around the living room to his old records, a Saturday night tradition that continued to evolve until my Saturday nights were no longer reserved for time with Dad. I remember one day he took me out of school early in first grade so that we could go to the State Fair and he let me have a candy apple and I pretty much thought he was the coolest dad ever. The time that I came home the night before our elementary school’s art competition and said I wanted to enter, he set up all our paint supplies and stayed up late with me as I finished. He is the one who taught me how to ride a bike and coached me in swimming, diving, and softball, and passed on his love of Carolina basketball to me.
But when Mom got sick, he took on a lot of other roles, too. As my mom balanced going through treatment and working full-time through the years, there were inevitably many times that she couldn’t be around for all the activities and moments that occupy children’s lives. There were a lot of times when she just didn’t feel good from the side effects of treatment. In fact, in many ways Dad has been there more than my mom, simply because there were many times that my mom just couldn’t be. Dad is the one who kept our household running. He packed lunches, was in charge of dinner, did the laundry, chauffeured us to school and all activities, and volunteered for all school functions. He made birthday cakes and helped with homework. In high school, he became The Band Dad. He was the parent who showed up to every single marching band competition, track meet, concert, dance recital, and play. He didn’t do these things because he felt like he had to; he did them because he wanted to spend time with us and be a part of our lives. Looking back on childhood photos and memories, I realize that we were accustomed to being a team of three before we ever had to be.
But one of the toughest roles that Dad embraced and did so well was as a caregiver to my mom throughout her twelve-year battle with cancer. In this way, maybe the greatest thing I have learned from him is the true meaning of “in sickness and in health.” During the final years of her illness, he brought her breakfast in bed almost every morning. He went to every doctor’s appointment that she wanted him to be at but also respected the fact that sometimes she wanted to go alone. I watched him gently help her into the house and into bed after her weekly chemotherapy. On the nights that she was sick he stayed up all night taking care of her. He never treated her like an invalid and never let her illness define who she was. And he always made sure that life continued to be as normal as possible for me and my brother. When he sensed that we were gloomy or upset about the situation, he did his best in his dad way to bring up our morale.
The thing about caregiving, though, is that generally speaking, no one outside of the immediate family really witnesses how much they do and sacrifice. After visiting in the spring of 2010, my grandmother said to me that she had never realized just how much my dad did to take care of Mom and keep our house running at the same time. I was so surprised by her comment because of course, I saw it everyday and just assumed that everyone else knew as well. So much of my mom’s every day battle was fought behind closed doors that people just don’t realize how much caregivers do. It’s a job that not everyone is cut out for and which does not lead to any honors or even positive outcomes.
After my mom passed away, my relationship with Dad changed a lot. It has gone through many phases and reiteration of phases but that’s a story for another time! The main thing is that no matter how frustrated or angry I may get with him sometimes, he’s got a pretty good track record of being an amazing dad. I admire him for his faith and devotion to his family so much. He’s had some very hard roles to play throughout my life and no one could have filled them as well as he has and come out on the other side still smiling and so full of life.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad! I love you so much.