Don’t go inside when he drops the ball.
My Mother’s Day column last year—the May 18 one about honoring an ornery mom—must have struck a nerve, judging by the many letters I received. Some readers asked, What about your dad? It looks as if lots of guys on Father’s Day have a hard time obeying God’s command to honor our fathers.
One reason is that many of us retain grievances. The quirky 1989 baseball movie “Field of Dreams” gets to me because my dad and I never played catch, nor did he ever come to one of my Little League games. Once, at age 10, I asked him to throw me some ground balls on the street—we had no backyard or green space nearby. He reluctantly obliged, but his first throw went under my glove and kept rolling and rolling. I fetched it, waddled back, and tried to cover up my error by saying, Throw one I can reach. That was a bigger error. He walked inside. We never played again.
I can’t lose that bad memory but can push myself to trump it with a good one. At age 8 I wrote a school report on Israel’s 1956 war with Egypt. I was pro-Israel but had picked up from TV Westerns that firing the first shot was wrong. When I read an account of the war that said Israel had launched a pre-emptive strike, I discounted that and wrote in my draft that Egypt in 1956 invaded Israel. My father was also pro-Israel, but he corrected me. I’ve never forgotten the importance of factual accuracy.
Part of honoring a dad is to let memories of his strengths outweigh the grievances. My father knew calligraphy. He knew the odds against a hand in bridge having no card higher than a nine are more than 1,000 to 1. He knew the frequency distribution of English letters: “e” most often, but folks who think the other vowels follow immediately are wrong. (“T,” “a,” “o,” and “n” come next.) He loved magic squares, arrays of numbers in a box on paper so that their sum in any horizontal, vertical, or main diagonal line is the same.
If we can’t forget our dads’ limitations, at least we can push ourselves to consider them as suffering human beings and not as icons (our childhood reaction) or icons to be shattered (often our teenage reaction). My father was extremely introverted and uncommunicative—once he totaled the car yet neglected to tell my mother—but through his consistent work I always had food, clothing, and a roof over my head. I’ve never had the experience of a wife screaming at me as my mother screamed at him weekly, but he didn’t strike back either physically or verbally—and they didn’t get divorced.
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