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Dad's day: Use it as an opportunity to learn about the man and his times

Jun 17, 2012 - By Steven R. Peck

Often on the third Sunday in June, we recall a memorable moment in our newspaper office. It took place some years ago, when a teen-age visitor acknowledged (confessed?) that he didn't know the following about his own father: age, middle name, birthday, specific occupation.

This isn't another tiresome indictment of self-absorbed teens, but rather an invitation to everyone on this Fathers Day to make an effort to learn more about Dad.

Some people have fathers who talk a lot about their lives, past and present. Probably just as many have the silent type, the stoic dad, the close-mouthed dad, the preoccupied dad.

And it's common for children of all ages, including adult, to view their parents as something other than human beings with feelings, desires, hopes, dreams, fears, triumphs and disappointments.

At the very least, just about every child at least occasionally has dismissed the experience of a parent as uninteresting, unimportant or irrelevant.

The result of these reinforcing, mutually-sustaining patterns of non-communication and ignorance is that the day comes when we realize we wish we know more about our parents. Often that realization comes when it's too late to remedy the problem.

So, on Fathers Day, we renew our annual admonition to interview Dad. See if he'll set aside some time, today or another day, even for just a few minutes, and answer questions. Follow up with more questions as time and patience permit.

Don't expect to think of everything immediately, or to get every answer at one sitting. Make it a process that lasts over time. Your father might feel more comfortable, and be more responsive, if the process can take a relaxed form over a period or weeks of months rather than one grueling afternoon.

Here are a few questions to start with. It's a list we've published before:

Where was he born? What were the circumstances? Who were his parents? Where did they live? What did he like as a kid? Dislike?

What was a typical meal for his family? A favorite sports team, movie star, book, radio or TV show, or recording artist?

Where did he go to school? What was that like? What subjects was he good at? Did he play a sport? An instrument? Belong to a club? Appear in a school play? What did he and his friends do?

Did he have a summer job? What was it? What was he paid? Did he serve in the military? Why or why not? Where did he serve? What was his rank, his outfit, his base camp?

Did he go to college? If not, why not? What school? What was his major? Where did he live at college? How did he pay for it?

When did he meet your mother? What brought that meeting about? What did her family think of him when they met, and he of them? How did he propose marriage? When and where? Where was the wedding? What was it like?

How did he decide on his job or jobs? What led him to a particular career or occupation, or to change it?

What was his first car, his first house, his first love?

How did he feel about having children? How old was he when you were born? What happened that day?

When did he first vote? Where, and for whom?

Was he ever ill? Injured? How was he treated for these ailments? At home? In a doctor's office? A hospital? How complete was his recovery? How is he feeling now?

What's something he's always wanted to do that hasn't happened yet? What would it take to accomplish it?

What was a happy time for him? What was a great compliment for him? A disappointment? An insult? A disappointment? A great achievement?

You might not want to ask him all of these things. Your list, for your father, no doubt would have questions attuned to him and no one else. And your father might not want to talk about all of this. He might not be able to. You may be separated from him, by habit or disagreement or distance. You may be separated by death.

Even so, those gaps can be narrowed or, if you are lucky, even eliminated. And even if you can't ask your father directly, or he can't answer, you can find out more than you know now.

This is worth doing. These things are worth knowing. The memories are worth building. They are worth passing on. Remember that when your own daughter or son comes asking. And happy Fathers Day.

-- Steven R. Peck

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