Robert B. Simpson: Dissenting dad

June 22, 2014 

As in years past, I have watched another Father's Day come and go with a mixture of feelings. I'm never sure how much of the surge of publicity is a natural expression of sincere feelings and how much is commercial hoopla, which is off-putting. I feel nostalgic for the days of my active fatherhood, that involved small children, along with a degree of embarrassment over being included in the general approval, on one special day, of all fathers. I always feel as if I'm receiving an award I didn't earn.

A part of the way I feel, which is basically that Father's Day is OK for others but not really for me, is probably because I grew up in a family that wasn't all that big on special days. Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter were celebrated full force. Personal birthdays, Mother's and Father's Day, and all the other lesser days were not.

I used to take a peculiar bit of pride in never having had a birthday party in my life. Then a few years ago, my wife slipped one in on me by giving it a different title. By the time I figured out that a "Family Get-Together" that just happened to fall on my birthday was a trick, it was too late. I might have escaped it if I'd wised up sooner. But unlike a "Family Get-Together," there was never even a chance of avoiding Father's Day.

It isn't that I think I was an awful dad. I was away a fair amount, of course, but that couldn't be helped, and I was certainly not unique in that regard. What I regret are the times when I was at home but not fully engaged with my kids when I might have been. Yes, I did 2 a.m. feedings, diaper changes, baths and such when they were babies. But as they got older, I got older too, and there were opportunities to play catch, fly a kite, tell a story, or other such bonding possibilities that I missed because I was tired, distracted, or otherwise occupied. Not always, but too often. My kids survived my inattention in good shape, and now they seem to think I did OK. At least they both still call home pretty much daily or at least every other day, and while their mother is certainly a major reason for their calls, I'm willing to share a little credit for their attentiveness.

Being a father has always been important to me, a goal from the beginning, but not for any special credit or recognition. I've always believed that having children was the best thing I ever did. Not so they would owe me something, or so I could brag about their accomplishments as if somehow I was responsible for them. Not so they could become wealthy or find a cure for cancer or write a best seller. Not so they could produce grandchildren, although we love our grandchildren immensely. No, I thought it was my single best accomplishment, shared with their mother of course, simply because they were two good, unique kids who grew into decent, solid adults, and I'm proud to have been involved. So when they call home, I'm happy to talk with the two good persons they've become. And so far as I'm concerned, I'd be pleased if instead of Father's Day we had Offspring Day. After all, fathers couldn't exist without offspring, who had no choice in the matter at all but had to put up with the father they got, good, bad, or indifferent. (Incidentally, I understand our two grandsons have launched the suggestion of Offspring Day with their own parents numerous times, so far without success.)

I hope nobody thinks I hate Father's Day or don't understand and admire those sons and daughters who have offered such eloquent words of appreciation for their fathers on their special day. I will always recognize all such special days, even St. Patrick's Day. But the next one I'll really celebrate to the fullest is Thanksgiving. Now there's a special day you can sink your teeth into.

Robert B. Simpson, a 28-year Infantry veteran who retired as a colonel at Fort Benning, is the author of "Through the Dark Waters: Searching for Hope and Courage."

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