When I get up, I go into my office and take down from the wall a large greeting card that my daughter gave me two decades ago. Then I read it to myself.
It starts with a cartoon of Garfield the cat who is saying: “Dad, it makes me happy that you accept me just as I am…. It also makes me question your judgment.”
In the empty spaces, my daughter wrote, “So thank you for being a wonderful father and making me feel better every time I talked to whoever is evil and intolerable in the world. And thank you for the spaghetti sauce and watching nature shows and having pretty gardens and letting me weed even though I pulled up flowers; and not telling me which college to go to or what to do with my life or in any way acting like a typical parent that would have driven me crazy. And thank you for understanding when I did go crazy so I could get back to normal (somewhat). And thank you for never commenting on how I dress!!”
My primary goal in life was to be a good father, something I did not have. My father suffered from severe mental illness and although he lived with us when he was not in the hospital, he was largely absent from my life.
So my mother, who single-handedly kept our family together and supported us, was my primary role model. She was tolerant, non-judgmental, supportive and loving. She used praise instead of punishment. And she delighted in our accomplishments.
Her sister and other family members used to criticize my mother for being too easy on her kids. “Spare the rod and spoil the child,” they used to say. “You let them get away with murder.” I used to worry they were right, although I would never have volunteered to live with them. My mother’s way felt like the right way. And, given how her kids turned out, I think it’s clear that it was.
Now I watch my daughter raise her kids with the patience, tolerance and love my mother gave me. And she’s better at it than either of us.
I believe that children are like flowers. If they are well cared for, get proper nutrients, enough sun, and the right amount of love, they will become the best possible marigold, or tulip, or hydrangea. The problem is that we don’t know which type of flower they are when they poke their heads into the world. And if we make the mistake of trying to turn a tulip into a marigold, we can do them great harm.
I learned to be a good father from my mother, and I believe I have passed it on. It’s a happy Father’s Day for me.