Somewhere along the way, our idea of a father changes. It starts off with this larger than life figure we quite literally look up to. For me, he was the one who taught me to ride a bike, who danced around the living room with me and taught me about his record collection. Taught me about classic rock, and the reason I could tell you all the members of Queen by the time I was six. He sang Good Night Sweetheart to us when he tucked us in at night, and took us to catch tadpoles in a styrofoam coffee cup. He would surprise my sister and me, waking us up, tossing us in the blue van and take us to breakfast in our pajamas. We would then head to El Capitan beach and camp in the van for the night. We would listen to music and roast marshmallows and play in the ocean. Such is the way with childhood memories. The simplest experiences were the most memorable.
Then we grow up, we learn to see him as human, with faults and fears and areas where his daughter could teach him a few things. He was my coach, my teacher, and offered an ear during a pretty turbulent few years. He toured colleges with me and came to visit me at Oregon State, where he led the dads in fraternity party mosh pits and shots of vodka in the middle of the street. He had ups and downs and chemo and radiation and a bone marrow transplant. And then he died. The most real of all human traits-facing your own mortality. He was heard in the hospital saying he wasn't afraid to die, he was afraid to leave his girls. How true that must have been.
So we grow up. We learn. We stumble through our own mistakes, with our dad's memory and advice (and judgment) in our minds. We meet men. The good, the bad, the boring. The ones we should love, and the ones we definitely should not. We date, we break up, we cry. We remember being little and what life was like before it all got so damn complicated. Back to camping in our pajamas and catching tadpoles.
And then, one day, you meet the right man. The one who you know would make your dad proud. The one you can see becoming a father to your little ones someday. And your view of fatherhood changes.
I see my husband show up. Even when he is tired, and even when he is annoyed. He shows up. When he plays "jump on pop" where they slam down on his back as hard as they can or plays "fly in the sky" by launching them onto a mound of pillows. He has movie nights and Papa-Daughter dates to go get ice cream. He does silly voices and makes up games and they think he is the funniest person on in the whole world.
We take the kids on lots of adventures. Camping, kayaking, hiking, bike rides. I can't help but think, though, that these silly games and ice cream cones will be their tadpole in a styrofoam cup moments. The ones they will think back on as they date and fall in love and get their hearts broken and meet the one that will make their Dad proud. And with any luck, they will find a partner who is as committed as their Dad is.
Happy Father's Day.