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The Man in the Shadows

Updated: Aug 15, 2023

Father’s Day pokes people in that place we tiptoe around as search for something else a little more interesting. I mean, most people love dad and when the calendar says it’s time to cook some burgers for the old guy, well, let’s throw on a few hotdogs, too, and make it special. Truth is, that’s what most dads want, as little fanfare as possible. But that doesn’t mean they don’t want to be noticed.

My dad passed four decades ago, but I still see him walking through my head in images of fishing and hunting, working on his food service route, or practicing baseball with me in the backyard. He didn’t have much to say, specialized in silence and a distance I never really understood and more often than not misinterpreted as suggesting something about me. Now I realize he too had his own private world, one haunted by foxhole images of WWII or by fantasies of speckled trout fishing in the Louisiana marsh. Who knew dads have feelings?

It's interesting for me having been a dad for nearly 50 years myself to notice how some men tend to roam like shadows at the edge of noticed life, always there but easy to overlook as they don’t roar about in their Porsche or designer sunglasses. I know it’s perhaps politically incorrect to say that men deserve some attention as seeing how our privilege has in fact screwed up the world in a zillion ways, especially for women, but on this day perhaps an exception can be made for the old geezer over there who trudged through life trying to make the world a little better for his kids, how he and that equally underappreciated mother tried to put someone else’s interest ahead of their own. I wish I’d thought that earlier in my life when my dad was still around for me to question about his past, about the haunting days he suffered so our country could continue its own obsessions with personal liberty so often misunderstood as the entitlement of freedom. I think over the years I had a better appreciation of my mom as she seemed more approachable and human, but I know they both never held anything but the best for me even when I misinterpreted their behavior as well as my own.

For those lucky enough this morning to be able to pat your dad on the shoulder or make a pot of coffee for him, consider how these moments could fade in an instant, and someday will. Let your dad be your cell phone for a moment and study what it has to offer, but don’t make a big deal about it, just be there, chat with him with the text of an actual face-to-face conversation, ask him what he’s reading or what it was like when he was a teenager, maybe let dad come out of the shadows and see what the full attention of love feels like when it's

not all sun glossed over with shirts, and ties, and things he probably wishes you hadn’t spent your money on anyway. Time is the gift to give, the one thing your dad really wants but doesn’t know how to tell anyone. Your mom will help you do it if she’s still around; she’s been acting that way all along, and even if she’s gone now, listen in the wind, she’s still there.

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