Perspectives on Father's Day -- four men and their babies

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Editor's note: Four staff members of the Southeast Missourian who are fathers reflect on what the holiday means to them.

I knew immediately after that I had botched it.

A few weeks ago, it was my eldest son's confirmation and I had to get up in front of our whole church -- along with several other parents -- and say a few nice words about my 13-year-old son, Zachary.

The whole process is about giving your child a blessing, letting them know that you're proud of them and giving them that sense of parental acceptance that so many kids go their whole childhood without.

And when it was my turn, I botched it.

I have never been much of a public speaker. I'm a writer, for crying out loud, not Tony Robbins. So I wrote out what I wanted to say, a few thoughtful words about how truly special my growing boy had become. But when it was my turn to speak, I became red-faced and stammered my way through it. I said a few nice things, but not what -- or how -- I wanted to say them.

So, since it's Father's Day, I'd like a second chance to let Zach and my two other beloved rug-rats, Hannah and Max, know what they mean to their bumbling, imperfect father.

Zach, people are always telling me how kind and good-hearted you are. It's nice to hear, but they don't have to. I already know. You are already in so many ways the person I'd like to be -- caring, good-humored and giving. And it's hard to imagine a more patient, tolerant big brother than you.

Your siblings will always have a role model in how to treat others. So will I.

I'd like to take some credit, but you are the way God made you. You will become a good, kind, gentle man. Of that, I have no doubt.

Hannah, my sweet-faced, darling little pixie. You just turned 4, but already you have become a mirror image of your mother. That is a good thing. You are precocious and scary smart. You have my inquisitive mind and an eagerness to know. Like many children, you want to know why. Unlike other kids, you don't settle for simple answers.

I love that you like to dance. (Though I wish you liked to do it clothed.)

You also have an eagerness to be in the middle of the action. But you are tender-hearted and easily wounded, which I suspect won't change. I hope it doesn't. That could lead to a poet's soul, one I would envy and admire. In my heart of hearts, I hope you will grow to lead and help others.

You have me wrapped around your manipulative yet beautiful little finger. And like your mother, you own my heart.

Max. You're only 19 months old, so this is a little harder. Even so, you're the one that already reminds me the most of myself. That could be a red flag, or maybe it just means that I usually act like a 2-year-old.

Regardless, I can already tell you have a fun, mischievous side and I predict a prankster. You also have a quick temper. You're going to torment your older brother and sister, and I can't wait to watch it. You don't talk much yet, but your first words -- after "Da Da" -- were "Thank you." That has to mean something.

You have an easy and a beautiful smile. I bet you're going to break some hearts. You, too, have a loving side. You love to give kisses and stroke your mother's hair. We have that in common.

You are my three unique children. You already have wonderful talents and qualities. I love you all in different but equal measures. I know that you each will matter and make a difference.

Let the world be forewarned.

Scott Moyers is the business editor for the Southeast Missourian.

My son has already written a book.

He read it a couple of months ago at Young Author's Day at South Elementary in Jackson. He climbed into a tall chair in front of his first-grade class and read aloud the words, and showed the audience the brilliant illustrations.

The book was called "The Magic Rock," and it was dedicated to me.

In the book, Drew found a magic rock. He was hungry, so he wished for dinner and suddenly his dinner appeared. After eating, his rock disappeared, Poof!

His first attempt at narrative writing was a smashing success.

If in the next few years he has to write an essay about his father, I hope he could write something like this:

"My dad is a good dad. Everything I do seems to make him happy. It doesn't matter if I strike out or miss a ground ball. He always hugs me after games, no matter what. Every morning when he drops me off at school, he says 'I love you, bud. Be good. Have fun.' Well, sometimes, he tells me to have a Stupendous Day.

"Dad doesn't have a lot of money. And I only get to see him on weekends and an hour every morning before school. But that's OK. Because we do lots of things. We play catch. We read books. We ride bikes. We write stories. We sled down hills.

"I remember the time Dad taught me to ride a bike. I remember how I fussed and threw a fit because I didn't want to get hurt. But I remember how he made me stick to it.

"We play lots of Skip Bo and Uno and he always sings 'We are the Champions' every time he wins. Dad's not a very good singer.

"I remember the time Dad sprinkled water on my face when I wouldn't wake up one morning. Ugh! That was awful. Some day he'll pay for that one.

"Dad teaches me to respect other people. He is never rude when he is angry with me. He never stays angry very long and he always explains why he gets me in trouble.

"My dad always tries his best to do the right thing. I know he isn't perfect, but he takes me to church every Sunday. He taught me that God made the world and that we should enjoy it. And that God's son, Jesus, died on the cross and came back to life so I could go to heaven.

"I know that I still have a lot of growing up to do, but I know my Dad will do whatever he can to help me be a strong person."

Chances are, Drew won't truly understand the lessons I'm trying to teach until he has children of his own. Over the next 11-plus years, we'll have our share of arguments as he and I tug and pull over the freedom he wants and the protection he needs. Regardless, I look forward to every day of his future. I know he'll do amazing things. Magic rock or not.

Bob Miller is a staff writer for the Southeast Missourian.

When I was a father of only two boys almost 10 years ago, a dead man's story gave me a lesson in what it meant to be a dad.

I was working in North Carolina as a reporter for a medium-sized newspaper. My job was to cover a county about the same size as where I live now in Cape Girardeau County. A lawyer of some local prominence in the town of Asheboro had died, and I was going to write a story about his life. To do such things well, you have to talk to the people who knew a person best -- his family. These stories are never easy, but most of the time I've found people are glad to talk about a deceased loved one. It's a way to let more people know how special this person was.

I don't remember the name of the man I wrote about. He specialized in land title law. Not exactly a made-for-headlines activity. But he worked in his small town and made a good name for himself. And his good name was made at home too. His sons told me so.

I remember one of them telling me how his father always, always had time for him and his siblings. He said they never felt forgotten or pushed aside.

Working in a job where success is often measured after long hours and long years of service, this son's testimony about his dad stuck with me. This man wasn't a household name, but then again, he was. He was known, respected and loved in the place where he lived. Not every man of the house can say that.

It's not something that I've been able to say, at least consistently. It's easy to fool yourself into believing in the old stereotypical thought of "I'm working from dawn to dusk and leading my children by example." In some sense, it's true. But if they hardly ever see you, how do children know you?

Most of the time I've been in Cape Girardeau, I've worked two jobs out of necessity. Sometimes it's been the only way to keep from having to buy groceries on credit, which in the long term is not financially responsible.

During this time, a colleague at work told me that I wasn't getting enough "me" time to have my life in balance. He is a father too. What he didn't understand was what that lawyer in Asheboro did understand: As a father, a good father, your life is not your own. You make sacrifices. Social activities that you had outside the family come inside the family. That's where you find your fulfillment. If family activities aren't fulfilling enough, you might need to question why you got into a family in the first place.

The four most important people in my life are Serge, Daniel, Nathaniel and Abby -- my children. My hope is that I put enough of my life into them, so that they will also give up parts of their lives for others. It's the only way to live.

Tony Hall is the news editor for the Southeast Missourian.

Dad. It's easy to spell. Defining it is a whole lot harder.

Today is Father's Day. But I think of it as Dad's Day.

There's a difference.

Any man armed with the right equipment can father a child. That's the easy part.

Becoming a dad is far more difficult.

There are no instruction manuals when it comes to being a parent. That's double for dads.

Moms, I think, are born with certain nurturing skills.

Dads don't start out with such skills -- they have to learn them.

It all comes down to practical experience, whether it's changing diapers or helping your child with spelling words, or rehearsing their lines for a school play.

I've been a dad for 13 years. I have a better idea now of what it means to be a dad than I did when Rebecca was born in 1992. Bailey came along in 1995, adding to our busy lives.

As a dad, I've had the joy of seeing our refrigerator door turned into an impromptu gallery of the kids' artwork.

I held their tiny, trusting hands on their first day of kindergarten. I've watched them become more comfortable in school as they've grown physically and mentally.

The children have gone through their share of backpacks over the years and participated in numerous home-room parties.

My wife, Joni, and I have been to a lot of those school parties.

There have been plenty of birthday celebrations too -- their birthday parties and their friends' birthday parties.

Dads and moms spend a lot of their parenting lives shuttling children from one activity to another.

There are church camps, sports camps, theater camps and Scout meetings that families plan their lives around.

Joni is much better at this scheduling thing than I am. But I'm learning.

Being a dad can be exhausting at times. But I wouldn't want to be anything else.

Being a dad is a privilege, an open door to loving hugs, childhood giggles and family outings.

It's an opportunity to help grow another generation and at the same time recall our youth.

My role as a dad has changed over the years.

I loved reading bedtime stories to my children. But now that they are older -- Bailey, 9, and Becca, 13 -- they no longer demand such nighttime attention.

But there are now other roles for me. Bailey wants to play ball with me. Becca, being a typical teenager, sees me as a chauffeur to haul her and her friends to the movies.

When they're sick, they still want their mother. As a dad, I know I can't compete on that score.

But I can do other things, like coming to the rescue when they're confronted by a spider.

There's camaraderie among dads and moms. It's sort of like being in your own country club. You share a special bond, whether it's watching your children play softball or attending a school play.

At its core, "dad" is a three-letter word that's best defined by a four-letter one: Love.

Mark Bliss is a staff writer for the Southeast Missourian.

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