Father’s Day is upon us. I appreciate the idea, but I honestly don’t care about a “holiday” designed for my wife and kids to make me feel special. I mean it when I say that they do it every day. My dad knows how much I love him, and I don’t think he cares much about a day of attention either. Maybe it’s just how we are wired.

This year, however, I do find myself thinking about two important fathers that I can’t offer happy wishes to. These are my grandpas — the fathers of my mom and dad. Both have been gone a number of years now. While I had very good relationships with them as a child and adolescent, I didn’t spend much time with them as an adult. I had opportunities, but I was a young (and dumb) man who thought I had better things to do than visiting with my grandparents. What an idiot I was. 

Like everyone, there are things I would do differently in hindsight. I wish I’d been more involved with my grandfathers later in their lives. I should have picked their brains — I have so many things I would ask them today. I understand now that they possessed an incredible amount of knowledge which was lost when they died. Countless memories and experiences were lodged in their heads, but were never documented. Many of these they probably would have loved to pass on, if they were simply asked about them. What I wouldn’t give to sit down and have a beer with these two men today. I think about what I would ask if I were granted just three questions.

For starters, I would want to know everything I could about my parents when they were kids. What did they love, what did they hate, how did they interact with others, what were their idiosyncrasies, were they difficult…were they happy? I would ask this not only because it would give me an idea of my parents’ childhoods and some insight into their personalities today (as well as my own), but also because it requires a long, thoughtful answer, which means I’d get a lot of bang for my buck. I would want to make this conversation last as long as possible, so difficult questions with certain to be lengthy answers would be a must.

Next, I would ask about my grandfathers’ biggest regrets. Hopefully this too would result in drawn out answers, although I suppose they could be as short as “marrying your grandmother,” or worse, “having kids.” I don’t think this would be either of their responses, however. My recollection is that both men probably had some regrets. They certainly seemed to have some demons, which may have been the result of difficult upbringings. Both grew up poor. My dad’s father had a tough early life helping run his parents’ farm. My mom’s dad had a more mysterious (and probably worse) upbringing, the facts of which no one can quite piece together. Despite their childhoods, both became good, relatively successful men. Still, what would they have done differently? This would be fascinating to know now that I am an adult.

Finally, I’d ask for any advice my grandpas could give me. What did they know, that I haven’t yet learned or wasn’t smart enough to ask about when they were alive? What can I do to help make my kids happy, responsible adults? How do I respond when they get into trouble or make major mistakes? What can I be doing now to help myself from one day looking back with regrets? My gut tells me that neither of them would have good answers to this one, but that they would instead suggest something along the lines of believing in my gut instincts. Maybe they would say this even if they had the answers. I suppose that could be an indication of trusting my judgement — and a lesson at the same time.

I would not ask what might be the obvious question to many: what, if anything, comes after death?  It’s not that I’m not curious, of course I am. I guess I just don’t think this knowledge would be fair for me to have now. I’ll find out one day.  

When my three questions were up, I would offer to buy another round, and hope like hell that they had time for one more.  Maybe they would offer additional insight, whatever that might be. Maybe they would ask questions about me or about my children that they never got a chance to meet? I know they would love them, just as they loved me so much when I was young.  Man, I wish my kids could meet them. 

If nothing else, maybe we would just sit in silence, enjoying our drinks. I would study the lines in their faces, their expressions, their mannerisms. I’d pay attention to their voices — I can still hear them in my head, but the sound is fading. I would hope that my mom’s father would tell me a dirty joke, and that my dad’s father would explain something about airplanes. Both would be equally significant to me. Finally, I would tell them both that I love them, something I don’t think I ever did while they were living.

I realize that I’ll never actually see my grandpas again in this lifetime. Perhaps we’ll meet again in some afterlife. Maybe not. As long as I’m alive, though, I will always have my memories. And they are truly great memories. Over time they may darken, but I know will never grow completely black.

I think I might care more about Father’s Day than I realized. It’s a chance to tell all of the important dads in our lives how much they mean to us — even if we are certain they already know. We should be sure to do this as often as possible now, because one day we will only wish we could.

Happy Father’s Day.

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Summer has invaded Kansas City.  The kids are out of school, the temperature is climbing, and our beloved Royals are having another great season.  It was last night while watching the ball game that I made a disturbing discovery.

Let me fill you in on the startling scenario.  It was the first inning of the game, and I was stretched out in my well-broken-in recliner.  Although it was toasty outside, the AC was kicking out some chilly air, so I had covered myself in a comfy afghan.  Rather than a beer, which I might typically enjoy during the early innings, I had opted to have a cup of warm green tea at my side.  I was just settling in when I remembered that I forgot to take my fish oil pill after dinner.  So, with a huff, I got up to do this (because you should really take it with a meal).  While getting the pill, my son came running in from outside, leaving the door wide open and allowing the scorching heat to invade our home.  “In or out, dammit!  I’m not paying to cool off the neighborhood,” I yelled.  As I made my way back to the family room, my world came to a halt.  I saw the game on the TV, the recliner, the blanket, the tea…  Tea?  “Oh shit,” I said out loud.  “I’ve become my father.”

I guess I’ve seen it coming for a while.  For starters, my twelve year old son is embarrassed by almost everything I do.  According to him my clothes look bad, my shoes are worse (hey, Crocs are super comfortable), and I constantly say stupid things or ask questions that any halfway intelligent person should already know the answers to.  I’m not saying that my dad is this way, but I certainly remember thinking the same things about him at one time.  It’s kind of ironic, my dad finally started wearing white socks with tennis shoes just a couple of years before all the kids started wearing black ones.  Oh well.

I have noticed my wife regularly saying, “You sound just like your dad” or, “Oh man, you just looked exactly like your dad!”  It might be something I say, how I laugh, or just an expression on my face.  She doesn’t mean it in a negative way (usually), it’s just an observation.

Mostly, I see it myself.  I’m in my early forties, which I don’t think is old at all.  I consider myself to be in decent shape, very active, and fairly hip.  At least as cool as my friends (and I have some damn cool friends, at least I think I do).  Hell, I play bass in a rock band!  I truly still feel like a kid, but when I look in the mirror I see this old dude staring back at me.  Tiny wrinkles everywhere, hair in wrong places, strange spots and scars, sagging eyelids…  Whoa, that’s my dad.  Does anyone else do this?  Do you ever catch an unexpected reflection of yourself and feel shocked by how old you look or how much you look like a parent?  It happens to me often.

Luckily my dad is a great guy (and decent looking).  We are different in some ways, but very similar for the most part.  We may not always see eye to eye on politics or the importance of regular oil changes, but, among other things, we share a similar (odd) sense of humor, as well as a love of sports and music — although sometimes different teams and bands.  My father instilled many great values in me, which we also now share.  The most significant is the importance of family.  There is nothing he wouldn’t do (or hasn’t done) for his family.  He was far from perfect, but his actions when I was young made me be a better parent, and he continues to inspire me today.  I am now trying to set a similar example for my own kids.

When I think about it, if I had to “become” any single person, my dad would be my first choice.  With the exception of my wife, there is no one I look up to more.  So when I complain about becoming my father, I guess I’m actually just bummed that I’m getting old.  I haven’t discussed it with him, but if I think I’m getting old, I’d assume my dad feels the same way, but even more so.  He is young at heart, but is he thinking about his mortality?  Does he look in the mirror expecting to see a young man’s face?  Does he see his father?  Like most children with aging parents, I have thought about the fact that my mom and dad are entering their twilight years.  The older I get, the less invincible my parents seem.  

The first concert I ever saw was with my mom and dad.  It was The Beach Boys — a band my dad and I both like.  Mike Love, one of the founding members of the band once said, “The great thing about getting older is that you get to tell the people in your life who matter how much they mean to you.”  I like this, but would add that it is great to get older and still have your parents around to tell them how much they mean to you, because the older you get, the more you understand and appreciate them.

Some day, I truly will be an old man and my father will be gone.  I hope I will still get to see him when I look in the mirror.  In the meantime, I’ll stay young in my heart and mind, and fight growing old — or at least try to grow old gracefully, causing my kids as little embarrassment as possible.  Tonight I’ll be sure to have a beer while watching the game, but I may still need the blanket.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve been wanting to do a little research on full synthetic versus synthetic blend motor oils.  Like I said, I’ve become my father.  I’m good with that.

  

For anyone who doesn’t have access to the internet…or television, or radio, or newspapers, or any other form of media, I should inform you that today is National Doughnut Day (and also World Environment Day, but that’s apparently much less important).  Ever wonder how or why this fattening tradition got started?  I assumed it was created by some struggling baker who wasn’t making enough “dough” (sorry, I couldn’t resist).  You know, kind of like a “Hallmark holiday;” a day that was invented as a marketing ploy.  So, I did a little research.

It turns out that National Doughnut Day got its start in 1938 as a fundraiser for the Salvation Army.  They decided on “doughnut” day because female Salvation Army volunteers had handed out doughnuts, among other supplies, on the front lines in France during WWI.  (These “Doughnut Lassies,” later more commonly referred to as “Doughnut Dollies,” continued to supply troops with doughnuts until the end of the Vietnam War.)  Today, nearly 80 years after its inception, the Salvation Army still uses the day to raise money, and many local and national doughnut shops donate a portion of their sales.

It’s nice to know that there is a good cause behind National Doughnut Day, or Day From Hell, as it’s probably referred to by those in the industry.  I feel like less of a sucker for taking my kids to get doughnuts today, regardless of whether or not our local shop was donating.  I hope they were, of course.  I’m quite sure, based on the line out the door and the depleted supply of dunkable delights, that the shop could afford to help the cause.

I will probably decide not to participate in the upcoming “national days,” including National Russian Language Day (June 6), National VCR Day (June 7), National Donald Duck Day (June 9), National Ballpoint Pen Day (June 10), and National Beef Jerky Day (June 12).  I will just wait until the more widely known, but still in need of attention, National Father’s Day (June 19, by the way).

Now you know that today is a national day worth supporting, so grab a doughnut and hope that some of your money is going to a good cause.  If nothing else, enjoy indulging a little on a Friday.  My kids certainly did.

“Vacation Bible School is pretty cool.  First, we get to sing songs on a stage, then we play games, then we have a boring class about Jesus, then we have another boring class about Jesus, then we have drinks and snacks.  I can’t wait to go back this summer!” ~ Recent quote from my five year old daughter

Although I wouldn’t consider myself a fan of organized religion, I’m a big believer in the good values that Vacation Bible School can teach kids.  I grew up going to church on Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday evening.  I didn’t always (or maybe ever, really) look forward to church, but I always enjoyed that one week of VBS each summer.  It didn’t feel like going to church, but instead was just fun.  Like my daughter does now, we too played games, sang songs, and ended each day with drinks and snacks.  Along with the fun, I remember one recurring theme year in and year out: to love and be nice to each other.

Despite not being big on religion, I definitely think there are positive messages in the Bible, just as there are in the Tanakh, Qur’an, Vedas, Tripitaka, and every other sacred text.  I’m far from a religious scholar, but I know one message consistent throughout almost every religion is the ethic of reciprocity, or what Christians commonly refer to as the “Golden Rule.”  Paraphrased, this means to treat others as you would like to be treated.  Regardless of your brand of faith (or lack thereof), it’s hard to argue with this ideology.

Growing up in a Protestant Christian church (Nazarene, to be specific), I remember numerous sermons focusing on hellfire and damnation.  I’m not saying that this was always the subject, but there was plenty of fear and guilt to go around.  Sure, there were times when the pastor spoke about something funny or lighthearted.  I don’t recall the topics, but there were certainly occasions when the nave was full of laughter.  Even on those days, though, our orator would usually end his speech by asking everyone to accept Jesus into their heart, and therefore avoid spending the rest of eternity in a bottomless pit of fire.  Fear and guilt…  Luckily, however, this has not been my experience with Vacation Bible School.

Paraphrasing the Golden Rule a bit more, you could say it simply means to be kind.  This is what I remember being taught when I was at VBS, and it has been the gist of what my kids seem to be learning as well.  I’ve seen firsthand that, although my daughter describes it as a “boring class about Jesus,” she is actually learning about being nice to others, making new friends, and playing (and praying) together.  My kids are being taught about kindness and compassion.  I can only hope that the majority of churches run their summer youth programs this way.

It’s odd, considering every religion stresses the importance of the ethic of reciprocity, that there is still so much hate in the world.  If we are honest with ourselves, we know that being kind to others is very rewarding, and no rational person is going to say they don’t enjoy receiving acts of kindness.  Why, then, does it seem to be so hard for people to be nice to one another?

One of the songs we sang back when I was a kid was “Jesus Loves the Little Children.”  Jesus loves the little children, all of the children in the world.  Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight…, the song insisted.  I think Jesus would still love the children when they grow up, right?  Maybe we need VBS for adults, or should at least shift the focus of church services away from scaring congregations or causing them to feel bad about their actions, and instead concentrate more on human relations.  That means (good) relations with all humans, not just those who view the world the way we do.  Some will disagree, but I personally can do without any extra fear and guilt in my life.

I think the Dalai Lama puts it best when he says, “My religion is very simple, my religion is kindness.”  Because at the end of the day, isn’t being treated kindly about as good as it gets?  I know it’s what I want.  Oh, and drinks and snacks, of course.