Father’s Day, as most holidays, is curious to me. My cynical side thinks that maybe it is a trick to get us all to buy grill items and ties and baseball tickets. One year when I was in my late teens or early 20s, my dad and I spent a Father’s Day at a Rangers game. The giveaway that day was a grill set; tongs, a spatula, and a glove. It was really nice. It wasn’t until we got back to the truck after the game that I realized I had left mine in my seat: spared from the responsibility of early fatherhood by my own forgetfulness.
My less (but still) cynical side thinks maybe a lot of kids are naturally selfish and need to be reminded once a year to tell their dads thanks for things like taking them to baseball games or just doing the best they could, to whatever level of capability they possessed.
It was Dad who introduced me to baseball in 1988. It was also my Dad whose career (professional rodeo cowboy. No, really) infused my spirit with some cocktail of wanderlust and what Merle Haggard would call “Ramblin’ Man.” It was that nomadic spirit that lured me into an RV with my family for the entirety of 2014. And on father’s day, we found ourselves in North Hollywood, California, in a church we didn’t know. It was that morning that I heard the best and most honest advice I’ve ever heard about parenting.
“We all screw up our kids (and to some extent, our parents)” the speaker said. “I think the most honest thing we can say to our kids is this: ‘I did my best, and I’m sorry’.”
That’s not a hall pass to be a selfish person and hope your kids figure it out on their own, but for me, it was an invitation to forgive, not just my own Dad for his shortcomings, but myself for my own.
I want to take a second here and clarify without airing out any dirty laundry: my Dad’s shortcomings are pretty minor compared to most. He took us with him when he traveled, made up songs to help us learn important life lessons, taught us how to sing harmonies, and when we were old enough to play sports, he traveled less and came to as many games as he could. He stuck up for us when he felt we had been wronged, and taught us how to read a map and take care of equestrian equipment (some lessons I use less than others). I never saw my dad–who was also a preacher–behave any differently at home than he professed to behave from a pulpit. Any shortcomings, real or perceived, pale in comparison to this: my Dad gave us a living example of integrity.
As for my own shortcomings, I could give you an extensive list. I traveled too much for music when my son was younger. I get impatient at the number of toys my kids have; it is probably a normal amount, but it dwarfs my living-in-a-camper stash of approximately one backpack’s worth of belongings, and it feels extravagant and messy. I sometimes just check out, overwhelmed by the world and the seemingly endless supply of evil, ignorance, or both that sometimes feels too powerful to overcome. Sometimes I forget that integrity necessarily requires some measure of stubbornness, and I disappear for hours at a time.
In short, “I’m doing my best, and I’m sorry.”
I set out to write an article about the connection between baseball and Dads, and instead I am writing about forgiveness. I feel lucky to have the Dad I do. I feel lucky to have the kids I do, and also I am acutely aware of this: there can be no Father’s Day without Moms. I’m eternally grateful for mine, and for my wife, to whom I also probably owe the same apology.
I also recognize that this is a difficult day for a lot of people. There are men who want to be fathers, but are unable. There are some whose fathers have passed away. And there are others yet for whom this day is not fully joyous; those whose Dads either didn’t do their best, or their best simply wasn’t good enough. No one has quite the ability to injure–both physically and emotionally–quite like a Dad, or in many cases, the lack thereof. I have many friends whose fear of becoming a father was/still is exponentially intensified by the bad example they were shown.
There are some who were raised by their grandparents or adoptive or surrogate parents, people who didn’t pass along biological traits, but still did their best, and still are sorry for their shortcomings.
There are some who hurt on this day because of a loss of a child. My dad went through that one, too. I experienced that loss from my own perspective of brotherhood, but I still, twenty years on, can’t fully fathom the violence such a loss must have inflicted on my parents.
Lastly, this day can be difficult for those who are acutely well of their own shortcomings and the damage they have done, but perhaps aren't sure how to ask for that forgiveness or begin to mend those wounds, either from selfishness, negligence or just the little accidental and inevitable abrasions that result from being asked to help mold such a fragile thing as a child with such an imperfect tool as your own humanity.
I suppose that’s where this article is going. Grill sets and ties are nice, but they’re also easy. Today, for me, Father’s Day will be a reminder to me to forgive, to ask for forgiveness, and to pass along that advice to all of you who opened this article expecting some Norman Rockwellian prose about baseball and Dads.
I’m sorry there wasn’t more baseball. I did my best.
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