Like Mother's Day, Father's Day this year seems a little complicated. I have a father and a husband who will be celebrated today...and two of our children have a living parent who was their father first.
Tonight over dinner, we will light a candle in honour of our kids' first father and I hope that we will have a good conversation remembering and honouring him...he is so worthy of being honoured as the man who gave life to two of our children and who loved them - loved them enough to do the unimaginable in order to give them continued life. The two days that we spent with him in Ethiopia last year solidified his place forever in our home and heart, and I love him.
I'm also one of the lucky ones because I have a great Dad. It's hard to know how to encapsulate my Dad in a short paragraph or two because he's a complicated guy....way more complicated than one would think upon meeting him or even after knowing him for decades. When I was growing up, my Dad was a pretty strict guy who traveled a lot on business and who was not as involved in the day-to-day raising of us three kids as my Mom was. This probably wasn't all that unusual for that day and age (I am old after all!) but regardless, it was true in our family. I always knew that my Dad loved me and he was good to us kids, and I respected and admired him for a lot of things. But it was when I was in my early twenties that I really felt like I started to know the real person that my Dad was/is, and how much he loved me. I was going through a rather challenging period in my young adult life, and had made a few decisions that, in hindsight, weren't the best for me and which certainly weren't in keeping with how my parents had raised me. Lots of people, including most of my family members, kept telling me to get my act together and 'tow the line.' Not my Dad. I get tears in my eyes just remembering what my Dad did. He started taking me out for breakfast on Saturday mornings. That's it. He never lectured me, never told me what to do. Just took me for a muffin and a hot chocolate, and we chatted. My Dad's not a huge talker when it comes to emotions (my oldest child is working on that and grins broadly whenever he tells Grandpa that he loves him and Grandpa clears his throat and gruffly tells Matthew that he loves him, too - Matt's deliberately whittling away at him!). But I knew, knew during those breakfasts years ago, that my Dad loved me and loved me enough to just be with me. I've never forgotten the power of shutting up and just being with someone you care about.
My Dad is also the guy from whom I learned fairness, a sense of justice, a great work ethic, a willingness to volunteer (he's still doing a ton of that in his retirement now) and a commitment to getting a job done. He's done countless projects around the house for us (including wiring our basement, helping us build a deck, building the play structure in our back yard, and a thousand other things) and is always quietly willing to help. He also taught me how to manage money: To save; to pay off debts if they must be incurred (he took me to the bank to get my first credit card when I was twelve and then helped me figure out and plan how I had to pay the bill when I greatly exceeded my allowance/income on that first visa bill! It was a lesson I've never forgotten!); how to tithe; and has been (with my Mom) generous in his giving away of money, including to us. He does a lot of thankless tasks for other people and I admire that in him. Though he's moody and sometimes too quiet and cranky in his moodiness, and although he can be a stubborn old goat when it comes to certain viewpoints he holds dear, and although he's got a lot of peculiarities that can drive me batty, he's got a deep kindness to him, forgives easily (though that might not be readily apparent) and is able to move on when people have wronged him. He's an easily misunderstood person...and I believe most don't really understand that he's actually (despite appearances of gruffness and strong opinions) a fairly insecure guy who likes to be liked and who needs to be needed (sounds kinda like me). It's how he shows his love for those around him.
All in all, I know that I lucked out when I got my Dad, and I love and admire and need him more than I tell him. Though I can never think of a good gift for him on Father's Day because what do you get for a guy who has fairly simple needs/tastes (other than his love of travel) and who gets for himself what he needs, I hope he knows that really, he's the gift to me.
Which leads me Geoff, who I also want to celebrate today as the Father of my children. Geoff had a long and sometimes difficult transition into fatherhood. He's a guy who wondered if he would be a good father and who still doubts this about himself on a somewhat regular basis. Despite our years of fertility issues in the lead-up to Matthew, I'm not sure that Geoff was really all that prepared for fatherhood when Matthew finally arrived. In words that he has often used himself, it took a long time "for the ship to change course." I'm not sure he fully realized what he was getting into when he grew into my dream of having three kids!
But he's grown so much in his role as a parent and he loves his kids. Geoff is the guy who, pre-kids, would have been sitting in a restaurant and unable to focus on a nice dinner conversation if there was a child crying in the background somewhere. But about a year after Matthew was born, this very scenario happened in a restaurant that we were in and I couldn't help but notice that Geoff didn't appear to even hear the baby crying. Fast forward another seven years and, though he's still not as comfortable with 'happy noise' as I am, it's still rather remarkable to me how much his tolerance for this kind of thing has grown. It's a good thing, too, 'cause he's the father of three very loud children!
Though he certainly has triggers and issues as a parent, Geoff is a kinder, gentler soul than I am by nature, and I'm so glad for this because sometimes our kids just need that special touch from him. He takes time to be with each of our kids one-on-one on a regular basis, often even when he's tired and would rather go to bed. Matthew grieves his absence when he's gone for even a night, because Matthew is sensitive like Geoff. When Geoff is away (like he was this past week), it's Matthew who needs the email and phonecall 'touches' from Geoff to keep the attachment strong and safe. They love to do workshop projects together or listen to Matt's ipod stories together, or go for bike rides to Tim Horton's for a hot chocolate. Lizzie stands at her bedroom window and cries many a morning when Geoff leaves for work because she loves to cuddle with Geoff. "I want my Daddy; I need my Daddy" she will cry out, holding her hands out towards the window as big crocodile tears slip down her cheeks. Geoff softens visibly sometimes when he picks up his daughter and I somehow think that he needed a little girl in his life. And Geoff absolutely started to 'get' Seth before I did, at some point last year; they attached more quickly than Seth and I did. When Seth would go into one of his screaming rages last summer during a time when Geoff was here, Geoff would calmly pick him up and take him up to our bedroom and lie there with Seth for an hour or more at a time, throwing a leg over Seth to calm him and holding him tight against his chest in a way that seemed to work almost magically with Seth over that hour. Geoff vastly underestimates the value he brings to his children (and to me as my kids' father) and I need to make sure he knows how much I appreciate the role that he plays in our family.
So I'm thankful today. Thankful for three men who have strongly and profoundly influenced the lives of my three children as well as my life. I thank God for each of them and ask for His hand of protection and blessing over Alemayehu, my Dad, and Geoff, as they continue in their remarkable journey as fathers.