I am quite happy to write this column from the vantage point of some distance from the pain of my own father’s death and the time I was alone, separated, and then divorced, and raising my boys 24/7. But, it only seems appropriate to reflect on those times, the positive memories of my dad, and the contrasting struggle of teaching my boys, much younger then, to remember their own father.
My father was a unique man: stoic, hard working, resistant to complaints, and whining, and completely in love with my mother. David Sallan died where he was happiest, right next to my mom, holding her hand, at 90 years of age. They met when he was 17 and she was 14, by a lake in Michigan; he was the sun-tanned water-worshipper, she was the shy, pale, redhead with a brain. He was brawn; she was class. And, he worshipped her from the day he laid eyes on her.
She didn’t make it easy for him. She dated other boys, and college men, while my dad did an apprenticeship in a blue-collar profession (dental technician), working with his hands. Her parents adored him and he’d hang out at their house, even on evenings when June, my mom, had dates with the aforementioned college men. She’d introduce him as her cousin.
But, he stuck it out and ultimately won her over. Their times, economically, were similar to our present times, except their expectations were less. Their wedding was a choice between a car and a party. My mom chose to be practical and they got a used car. June kept the family finances and was always very practical. Dave was the workhorse and she the saver and planner — a perfect partnership.
They had a love-match you only see in movies and rarely have the privilege to behold. This was the feeling of all their friends and one that I took for granted, not understanding just how unique it was. He looked at my mom, when she was old, after her stroke, in her late 80s, and still saw the beautiful teen he met by that lake in Michigan. I can’t imagine that unabashed love and it was wonderful to behold, though nearly impossible to achieve myself. I married for the first time in my late 30’s, and the second time a bit later. But, how different this second marriage is, beginning at our respective ages and given all the separate history we have in contrast to the shared experiences my parents lived. Regardless, I’m very lucky to have found Loren.
Before I was blessed to meet my present wife and have the chance to give my boys the advantage of a mother, father, and an intact family, I raised them alone for several years. The holidays were especially difficult, since so many of our former friends just didn’t know what to do with a dad and his boys. They seemed to look after and care for the single moms but not this single dad. It was a problem and one that I didn’t anticipate at the onset of our separation and divorce. I had to make a whole new social circle. I’ve since learned that this gender bias is quite common with single dads often feeling isolated.
So, there was no one to take my boys shopping for me, or anyone to suggest gifts or special things to do or make for me on Father’s Day, my birthday or other holidays. At first, I just didn’t know how to handle this. While their mother was absent, I still felt an obligation to teach them to respect the institution by remembering her on Mother’s Day and her birthday. The same for their maternal grandmother who, also, pretty much abandoned the boys though she’d send them a birthday card, each year, with cash for the number of years they’d reached as well as a holiday card or gift. Repeated invitations to visit were ignored, but I still had the boys remember Mother’s Day for both of them.
The challenge came in teaching my young boys how to honor their father on Father’s Day. I didn’t want to seem self-indulgent but I felt it was an equally important lesson for them to learn. In many ways, they were taking me for granted and that is one of the values of both Father’s Day and Mother’s Day. Even just going to the card store and reading the corny cards, espousing parents virtues, has its value for a child.
Ultimately, I chose to take them to the bookstore, a favorite outing of theirs, and set them loose to find a book that I’d like. This way, they got to test their own knowledge of my likes and dislikes, it became a game, and it taught them to think of their father. Afterward, we went to a restaurant of my choice instead of the usual pizza or burger joint. They learned this important lesson, ultimately, for both parents and now they have a wonderful step-mom who takes them shopping for me while I do the same for her. This is the way it’s supposed to be, the way I grew up (going to the department store for a tie or tie-clip or socks, for my father), and the way I want my boys to understand the meaning of Father’s Day.