Father’s Day: The pleasure is all mine

Published 5:06 pm Wednesday, June 13, 2018

So here’s my headcount, approaching Father’s Day:

I have one wife, one son, three daughters and nothing but good luck with my children.

And if I’m wholly honest, I’m not sure how much I had to do with the children’s success. I might’ve been nothing more than a most fortunate spectator. You get one shot at being a dad and it went by in a blur: baptisms and first communions, softball games and chess tournaments, school plays and art shows. And then they’re gone.

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Father’s Day’s a great occasion for goofy cards — there’s no mush in this family — and long-distance phone calls. One of these is from me to my own Dad, now 86 and living 1,800 miles away. I can barely keep watch over him.

The other calls are from the kids to me: They’ve scattered somewhat but all lead meaningful lives. When they need real guidance they ask their mom; I’m just here for comic relief.

Oh, I was good for special trips and coaching and driving to cross-country meets. As my father-in-law used to say, “I just drive the car and pay the bills.” Except, in our house, my wife pays the bills.

I made one special effort to inspire my children when the eldest was midway through high school: I decided to pursue a master’s degree in history part time to show the kids how much I valued learning. That would show leadership, I decided.

Here’s how that flopped: It took me seven years to finish my coursework and a thesis. By that time, one daughter had graduated college, my son was a senior and they gleefully lampooned me at every turn for my computer failings and for my outsized passion for my obscure thesis topic.

The success my children enjoy may be more due to the influence of their mother, the oldest of seven children herself, who grew up as the drill sergeant in her family and who assumed that role as a mom.

We have four children, each born two years apart. They graduated college in order and married in order. Boom, boom, boom, boom. There’s a certain regularity to our family existence.

All four graduated the same public high school in northeastern Louisiana and, when the last graduated, their principal told us, “I’ve never met four more different kids.”

He may have been right.

They majored in Latin, engineering, modern languages and studio art. All the liberal arts kids are gainfully employed, at which I still marvel. I thought they’d live in our basement. The engineer is working in Thailand, which keeps me from meddling in my grandchildren’s lives. So far.

But 35 years of fatherhood has taught me a thing or two, including:

  • The four children are different because we let them be different. They usually found their own way.
  • Their successes are their own. I tried to do the right things for them, but, bottom line, they did the right things themselves. Good for them.
  • Family is forever: When the kids and their spouses are together, I sometimes back out of the mix so they can form stronger bonds among themselves, four family units that will be here, devoted to each other, long after my wife and I are dust.
  • Don’t look to be honored on Father’s Day. Revel in the joy of being a father; the pleasure is all yours.
  • Father Theodore Hesburgh, former Notre Dame president, said, “The most important thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother.”

I did that. Every day. Still do.

Ken Stickney is editor of The Port Arthur News.