Father of the Year

I was thinking this morning about Father of the Year awards, it being Father's Day. In a way, (and by no means am I criticizing these awards) I thought they do a disservice because they usually recognize the extraordinary, and being a good father is really about the ordinary: being good, decent, and involved with your kids.

My father was a very ordinary man in this regard and that made him a great father. He was a very unassuming, quiet man. You could miss some of his excellent qualities because he was very understated. He was good and decent and we could rely on him no matter what. Our life had a rhythm that I appreciate. He went to work everyday to provide for us, he came home every evening, played with my sister and me until dinner, worked with us on our homework afterwards (and made some more work for us if homework time wasn't up but our school-assigned word was), and then we played a board game or watched TV together. Chores around the house on Saturday and church every Sunday. He taught Bethel Bible classes sometimes and studied hard because he'd squandered his formal education as far as it went. We went to Baskin-Robbins for ice cream only to celebrate big occasions, otherwise it was Save-on ice cream. We took a two-week driving vacation every June as soon as school got out to historical sites and natural wonders. He liked to watch National Geographic and travel shows with us on TV, and I remember his taking us to see the movie about the Kon Tiki. He very understatedly but deliberately conveyed a sense of history and appreciation for nature and our country.

Not that he was boring. He loved jokes, funny stories, and got a huge kick out of playing practical jokes and having them played on him. His pranks going back to his childhood were family legend. April Fool's Day was an unofficial holiday in our house. We woke up wary, and when we were old enough, we tried to sneak out of the house before he could spring his carefully laid trap.

Above all, we could always count on him. And that's what made him extraordinary: his devotion to his family. He had already raised two sons who were practically adults when I was born and my sister two years later. And I think he would have started over again if he could have because being a father was his vocation in life. My nieces came along then so he devoted himself to being a granddad. He was extremely sentimental, but not overt about it.

His father had not been reliable and had abandoned his family for long periods of time. His mother, his rock, was killed when he was 20, and being the oldest of five siblings, he took care of them. When he settled in L.A. after World War 2, he brought his younger still dependent sibling here. My aunt still remembers the first pair of glasses he bought her, not that they were fancy, but because her big brother made sure she had what she needed.

In fact, as my father was dying of cancer five years ago, he never complained once. His concern wasn't for himself. He was concerned about not being there to protect us, to watch over us, to provide for us when we needed something.

My Dad was bedrock. Steady. Dedicated. Reliable. He was very ordinary, and that's just what made him such an excellent father. I don't remember many extraordinary moments, I remember all of the ordinary ones rolled together. Kids don't need the flash and big moments. They need the regular moments every day on a consistent basis. A bedrock to build their life on. That's what a father should be.

Jonah Goldberg eulogized about his father who recently died and recounted a story about the man who thought the earth was poised on a turtle. When questioned what that turtle sat on, he said another turtle. Asked again what that turtle rested on, the man said, "Let me cut you off. It's turtles all the way down." Goldberg said that's what his father was to him, turtles all the way down on which his world rested. And completely consistent - you always knew you could count on him. And that's how I feel about my Dad. And I wish every kid could feel that way, too.

Melinda Penner

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