This year marks the first Father’s Day that both of my dads are gone. Last year, we lost my biological dad — WWII vet, aerospace engineer and horticulturist — at age 96. Last month, my “step-up” dad — business pioneer, lawyer and entrepreneur — passed at age 89. Both lived full lives. Both left lasting impacts upon the world they left behind.
Many of you probably know my two dads without ever having met them. The helmet you wear on your head while riding a bike is an incarnation of the original “crash” helmet my blood father designed almost 50 years ago. God knows how many lives he saved and traumatic brain injuries he prevented. The hot foods served at ball parks and (at one time) on airlines began more than half a century ago thanks to my other dad’s idea of “flash freezing” to ensure freshness.
Far beyond their worldly accomplishments, the most enduring quality of my two dads was their love of family. They were not always model dads. No one ever is. But in my rear view mirror both of my dads did the best they could with what they had and who they were. And they inspired me to do the same.
I am not the father of a human child. My wife and I decided against parenthood for practical and personal reasons. However, we have chosen to bring animal companions into our lives. I consider myself blessed to have been a one-time foster dad and a one-time forever dad. Our doggie daughter is curled up at my hip as I write these words.
Raising Lilly, the Boston terrier, has been one of the most joyous, exasperating, personally-fulfilling and informing experiences of my life. My wife and I have grown immeasurably as people, partners and “parents.” Not always easy when you’ve got a rambunctious child who lives to eat dirt and and has the personality of a circus clown.
I loathe reminders of my shortcomings as a father yet welcome them at the same time for therein lies the avenue toward becoming a better parent. This is how my two dads became better dads.
So, my dear Lilly, I make these solemn vows to you:
I will make special time for you everyday; to greet you, engage with you, walk and play with you no matter what kind of day I’ve had or whatever “urgent” projects beg my attention.
I will continue to train you so that you can be more relaxed and behave your best around other people and animals. This is a work-in-progress that will continue forever because no one ever stops learning how to get along.
I will set limits and give you “time outs” when you are demanding. No one ever gets whatever they want all the time. If we gave in to your every desire, you would lose respect for us, we would lose control and we would all be unhappy.
I will do my best to “listen” to your special language — your facial expressions and your body posture — so that I can best interpret how you’re feeling and how best to “answer” you.
I will always consider you when making plans for family trips. Mommy and I know that family trips are happiest when all of us are together, though this may not always be possible.
I will feed you the most wholesome, nutritious food our family can afford to ensure that you go to the doctor as little as possible and live the longest, healthiest and fun-filled life you can.
I will be with you — and mommy will too — when your time comes to leave this world. You will be wrapped in blankets and toys, kisses and wishes for a safe crossing to those endless green fields where we will hopefully meet again.
Thank you, my two dads, for teaching me how to be a father. And Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there who are just doing the best they can with who they are — which means wanting to do even better.