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How you remember Dad

Jun 14, 2012 - By Betty Starks Case

It may be more important than how he actually was

Just when I thought there was nothing I could say about Fathers Day that hadn't already been said, I remembered Pulitzer Prize-winning American poet Anne Sexton. I'd quoted her years ago in an article about my own father.

"It doesn't matter who my father was," Anne wrote. "It matters who I remember he was."

That's something we should all keep in mind. Memories are made by people who build them and the ones who carry them through life in joy or sorrow.

Recently, I read of a man who was trying to step into the life of a rejected 5-year-old boy as a father figure. The man had been deserted by his own dad. He knew the yearning, the empty feeling.

We could use more men who want to be dads in today's world. Despite some popular thinking that children don't need both male and female parents, results of the weakened family unit suggest we're kidding ourselves.

Just ask a fatherless child if he or she would like to have a dad.

Of course, there are all kinds of fathers. But as Anne Sexton said, "It matters who I remember he was."

My mate and I discussed this memory thing. In our teen years, it seemed our fathers didn't understand, didn't care, or were just intolerant or harsh. Sometimes we got criticism when we needed praise.

Then we harked back, as they say, to childhood days, days when we may not have been such a problem ourselves.

Ned recalled his often gruff and reticent parent patiently teaching him how to write his name in beautiful artistic script, playing with him, and his own concern when he bloodied his dad's nose in a pretend boxing match; then as a teen wrecking the family car, and to his great surprise, his father asking only, "Are you hurt? Are you all right?" .

He realizes now that his father gave him many life gifts -- a faithful work ethic, honesty, a deep love of history, appreciation of art, of humor and dancing, and a healthy body to carry him through.

I remembered my father's sometimes sharp tongue that could hurt more than the spanking he never gave me. But behind such thoughts were times like my visit in middle age when I awoke in the night to hear him walking the floor, unable to sleep with restless leg syndrome.

After we talked awhile, I walked over to kiss his lined cheek. His arm came around me, and I heard once more the words I'd heard nightly in childhood, "Good night, my good little girl."

Now I remembered that he also gave me determination, a love of words and rhythm and poetry, imagination and laughter. And yes, a tongue that must sometimes curb itself.

These are examples of what one can remember a father was when you're locked into a negative mode; and how that memory can change when you revisit your storehouse of experience expecting to find the positives.

No parent is perfect, and no one knows that better than they.

So unless you've been deserted by your dad, you can still decide which way you want to remember him Sunday.

Maybe he wants to change? Maybe you both can build something new?

On this Father's Day, my message is also for all the dads who think they can't resolve family problems. Please think again. It's for those who can still see the potential in helping to create memories of who you really are for the children you've brought into this world.

Recall the child you once were yourself. He'll help you understand.

Kids rarely say, "I remember all the plastic toys my parents gave me to fill the void of their absence."

The dad they're more apt to recall is the one who gave them his time, helped them see the wonder in nature, the magic in planting a seed and watching it grow a tomato; the one who hugged them when they won an award, helped them build a tree house, stilts, or a water raft.

A raft? I can still see the one my dad made for my sisters and me to ride in a Dakota rain pond. It fits right in with the singing harmonica, the carefree jig, and his proven faith that, "In trouble, there's no better sword than laughter."

Yes, it matters who I remember he was.

It also matters who I choose to remember he was.

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