I don’t want your material gifts today. I don’t want anything physical and concrete from you. Well, except for maybe a hug and a “thank you.” That would be sufficient. Or, maybe if we could have lunch together, an hour or two of real conversation, where we don’t dodge and weave, and I don’t spend most of the time telling you fatherly things and you spend most of the time looking at your phones or shining me on. Maybe we could really talk about you and I and learn something a little deeper about each other.
Maybe we’ve done that and I just don’t realize it. I don’t know. Maybe you’ve been listening to me all along. All I know is that I don’t want a gift or a card or anything really from you. Except for these very small things.
You are 21 and 18 now, both away at college. You are taking your first tentative steps towards becoming adults and men. But you are far from achieving those goals. What I want is for you to take on the challenges that face you. Fully and completely. To take care of all of it and not just the things that come easy or the things you enjoy, while ignoring the difficulties and less enjoyable aspects of life. There is no picking and choosing. Life is not a menu where you can pick an appetizer, a main course, and a dessert. No, being an adult means you take it all on and get it done.
Establish yourself, your independence, your way that you will get through life. Plant a flag. Or not. Wander the corners of the world and experience everything there is. It’s time though to decide how you will take care of yourself and those who will come to depend on you. Your own family, when you choose to have one. Your close friends who will come to you in time of need. The less fortunate in society who will need your charity. It’s time to recognize that you now have an independent role in that world. You don’t accomplish these things through me or your mother anymore. There is a growing burden that rests on your shoulders alone. You can’t ignore it. You must embrace it.
On Father’s Day, I want to see that you are making progress to these things. That you are taking your life on so that I can let it go. Yes, what I’m asking you to do is to take the burden on now so that mine becomes a little lighter. I’m not asking you to take on anything more than what you owe to yourself. Your life. Your happiness. Your success. Your accomplishments. The world which you wish to inhabit. It’s all yours now. It’s not mine. It can’t be. I should now just be a happy bystander, occasionally imparting words of wisdom, but for the most part, watching with a smile on my face as you achieve your dreams and your place in the world.
I want for you that you learn from my mistakes. That you find a path in life that fills you with happiness, that you never settle for a job that doesn’t fill you with meaning and value simply because it pays the bills. That you live in the moment while protecting tomorrow instead of ignoring today because somebody has to worry about what comes next. That when you are a father yourself that you learn from the things I did wrong and choose to do things differently rather than sliding into the ease of following the only father model you know.
I want for each of you to be a better father to your kids than I was to you. I want you to be a better man than I ever was. I better spouse, a better human … just better.
That’s all I want on Father’s Day. Simple enough. A lot easier than getting the right card and gift for me. But they are the things that will provide greater meaning to the fact that I was fortunate enough to be your father.
I want you to know that I have loved each of you more than you can possibly imagine since the moment you each drew your first breath. And that love remains and will always be there.