I’m pretty sure I’m the baby on the left in the middle photo…

A Father’s Day Gift Guide

While I suspect my own children are combing Father’s Day boards on Pinterest for ways to honor my successfully resisting those urges to flee the rigors of parenting by “going to get some cigarettes” and disappearing until the youngest graduates college, the approach of the holiday has caused me to reflect on what I might get my dad, were he alive today.

My father passed away in 1996 after nearly a year of battling pancreatic cancer. From the day he was diagnosed, I knew it was just a matter of time before it snuffed him out — it is an especially vicious strain of an already dreadful disease. That was proven years later when it took the seemingly invincible Patrick Swayze from us.

On Sunday, June 18, 2017, he would have been 94 years old, so gifts like a Justin Bieber poster or game of Twister might not hit the mark. So I would present him with the following:

A game of catch with my wife. In high school, he thought the world of my then-girlfriend because she could not only drive a tractor, but also threw a softball with enough velocity to make his hand sting. After all, that’s how he wanted us to throw the ball as well. It’s funny — while dads today slowly ease their kids into things, starting by rolling the ball, then tossing underhand then graduating to overhand lobs, mine took joy at firing high-speed softballs at the outstretched mitts of his quivering offspring. He also took keen delight in crushing an overhead shot in tennis that we had no chance of returning. Kevin Costner’s character in Field of Dreams may have longed for “a catch” with his dad, but I’m pretty sure my siblings would take a pass. That said, he told me he knew Trina was “the one” after just one game of catch. He was right.

A brag session about my kids. My dad was all about kids. He sired 14 of them, myself included. As a doctrinaire Catholic, he saw such prolificity as his duty and our achievements as his reward. Viewing us as extensions of himself, he drove us to become leaders OF things without actually driving us TO things. The teenaged me would smolder when he not only refused to drive me to football practice, but often scheduled family events that took nonnegotiable precedent over workouts. Then he would talk to total strangers in the stands at my games and take credit for my accomplishments on the field. So, in his honor, I would sit by his side, sharing a scrapbook of my children, with their achievements listed in large print, and let him take credit for their success as well. And I would smile warmly while he did it.

A rendition of De Colores. Born and raised in Wichita, Kansas, my dad was as Midwesternly white as a guy could get, but he harbored a lifelong crush on Sophia Loren and was powerless in the face of the song De Colores. The Loren thing was a matter of personal preference, but his love for the song was connected to the spiritual awakening that he, like so many Catholics of his generation, experienced as the Cursillo movement swept the world in the 1970s. The Cursillo theme song became his tear-inducing kryptonite, so De Colores became our leverage when we wanted something from him. If he were here, I’d learn the actual words then sing it and ask for nothing in return.

A rendition of Oh, Danny Boy. Music was a big part of our family and at least a third of the offspring can play guitar, so get-togethers typically progress into a singalong at some point. We still launch into it from time to time, knowing how much he loved his namesake Irish folksong. I think it made him feel connected to something bigger, more enduring than himself. We sang it on his birthdays, St. Patrick’s Day and whenever else we needed to loosen him up. I’m pretty sure my brother, Paul (or was it Vincent? So many brothers…), sang it at his funeral, so I’d definitely draft him to get things started.

A whole pack of Necco Wafers. Raising 14 kids is hard work and, as the father of three, I suspect it was incredibly expensive, whether the cost was measured in 1949 dollars when my oldest brother, Chris, was born or in 1969 when the youngest sibling, Gregory, came along. I can recall family drives when my dad would pull the station wagon over for a treat. He would disappear into a drugstore and emerge with a single sleeve of Necco (short for New England Confectionary Company) Wafers and charge the oldest sibling present with distributing them equally. Since fighting was not allowed, we typically had to content ourselves with a single wafer, savoring the unremarkable sweetness as it dissolved on our tongues.

A thank you. Like many men, I have mixed emotions about my father’s influence in my life. In my youth, I had high hopes for my dad, dreaming that he’d be a combination of Super Man and Bill Bixby’s character on Courtship of Eddie’s Father. Instead, he ended up being who he was: a guy who had a pile of kids and did his best to send them into the world ready to make a difference. As I survey my siblings, I see a group of people who are forthright in their diverse beliefs and committed to bringing more compassion to their relationships than they experienced. As I reflect on my own 22 or so years of fatherhood, I see a guy who has fallen short more times than I can count, but keeps striving. At the end of the day, I love my wife, I love my kids and they know it. Whereas some of my siblings skipped my dad’s funeral, I stand a strong chance of 100% attendance at mine, so it appears I’ve improved on my predecessor’s record. I think he would have liked that, too.

So, if your dad is still around, be sure to give him a gift HE wants and let him know you think he earned it.

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