MILLEDGEVILLE — Since I learned several months ago that my youngest son and his wife are expecting our family’s first grandchild — a grandson — this Father’s Day has a little different meaning for me. My father will be 80 in a little more than a month, and as I navigate my 50s, the invincibility I once enjoyed as a young man is replaced by the sobering realization that no one lives forever.
My mother passed away a few years ago after a long battle with cancer, and that also changes the way I view special occasions and holidays. She could be ornery and cantankerous, but we all miss her. I often find myself thinking that I wish she could see how everything she fussed over turned out. Then I am reminded that perhaps she can.
Since my wife retired, she has been dreaming up projects around the house for us to do. We mostly work together, but a lot of that together work is a good opportunity to get lost in one’s thoughts.
With a son, grandson, and great-grandson on the way, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about fatherhood. Looking back on it, my own youth was filled with a fair amount of the kind of father-son turmoil that was the typical result of my own rebelliousness.
I am a product of the 1960s, after all.
It’s interesting to me that, although I know those times occurred, I find it hard to remember them specifically. Instead, I remember a man who taught me how to hunt and fish, how to appreciate daybreak and sunrise on mornings so cold that my breath nearly froze against the air.
The same man taught me to drive a car — a 1966 VW Beetle, to be exact. I was 12. Almost every Sunday afternoon while he was teaching me to love the outdoors he was also teaching me how to shift gears, make sound judgments, and act responsibility.
A few times he taught me how to dig that old Volkswagen out of a mud hole. It didn’t seem like much fun at the time, but those are pretty priceless memories now.
He taught me about being there. He is a small man in stature, and while I outgrew him by the ninth grade, it wasn’t by much.
I played high school football in the mid-‘70s at a time when a kid my size had no business getting to play. He went to every game. Sat in the stands pulling for my team whether I played or not. He never really said so, but he was proud of me for just trying. He knew how much I wanted to play, and somehow I knew how much he pulled for me. I didn’t always win or get the playing time I felt I deserved, but he taught me to make the best out of what I did get.
He still sits in the stands most Friday nights to watch my old high school team play. I know it is because he loves the game, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he has the occasional flashback to a little kid who wore No. 75 and was the center of his attention.
That same spirit followed me throughout my career as an educator. He always pulled for me to get the big break, receive the best job, or earn the next promotion.
I left my hometown to chase those dreams when his grandsons were in single digits. That broke my mother’s heart in a way from which I am not sure she truly recovered. He was the one person who understood and encouraged me in spite of the pressure to settle.
I got my first summer job when I was 14. I’ve had a job every year since. He taught me to work hard, be loyal, and save for the future — all from a man we jokingly credit with having appeared on the high school graduation roster of at least four classes in the mid-1950s.
He taught me the value of an education. I was the first Rowland boy to graduate from college. I am the only teacher in my family, as far as I can tell, and I entered that vocation at a time when winning the bread on a teacher’s salary was next to impossible. I think he is proud that I found my way differently from anyone else in the family.
He also taught me perseverance. I can never remember a day when I didn’t believe I could do anything. I think part of that is just my personality, but some of it also comes from watching his example.
When my own sons got married, he taught me never to give them money to pay their bills. That sort of went along with the “find your own way” theme. He did, however, teach me to help them financially every time I got the chance.
He taught me to be the voice of reason. I mentioned before that my mother could be a little domineering, and her son was committed to the aforementioned hard-headedness I alluded to earlier, suffice it to say my dad played referee much more than he deserved.
When my mother got sick, he taught me the meaning of unconditional love. He was by her side every minute of every day — and most days were not pretty. Perhaps the most important thing he taught me was to teach my sons to love the mother of their children. The world would be a better place if more men understood that.
I don’t get to talk to my own sons as much as I’d like. One is in Florida chasing his dream and the other is in Virginia serving his country. When we do talk every conversation ends with, “I love you, Dad.”
I don’t remember a time when my dad said, “I love you.” But the one thing he taught me, above all else, is that he does. Perhaps the most powerful love of all is the kind that never has to be spoken.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad, and thanks for everything you taught me.