Friday, May 23, 2008

How Do I Love Thee, Dad? Let Me Count the Ways

If you ask my husband what he’d like for Christmas, birthday or Father’s Day, he always says, “I don’t want anything. Really.” When pressed, he’ll finally admit that he could use socks and underwear. He’s one of those “impossible to buy for” people on the gift list.

One year our three sons pooled their funds and bought him a leaf blower. He grumbled about it after they had all gone home, but once his friend showed him how to use it (Husband is not mechanically inclined), he found it very handy and now uses it regularly. That gift was a definite success.

When Husband turned fifty, all three of our sons were away at college and couldn’t afford to send much in the way of a gift. Instead, I asked each of them to each compose a list of fifty observations about their dad. They could be memories or general comments, or combinations of the two. Just a list of fifty things. One was emailed to me and contained rather formal language (from our youngest son who was about nineteen going on forty), another (after several reminders of the due date) rambled a bit before he got to the point, and the third list was dictated to me from a phone booth in Pocatello, Idaho.

"We just finished our soccer game, Mom, and it's midnight, I'm barefooted and it's pouring rain, and have I said fifty things yet?" I counted, and he had.

The reflections were funny, honest, and touching. Each list was so characteristic of the writer, it was a choice experience to read them. And the boys' comments reminded me that we often don't know what our children really think of us.

Their lists included everything from comments of respect, admiration and love for their father to complaints about his cooking and the day he made them eat spinach. They thanked him for attending nearly every soccer game and parent teacher conference when they were in elementary, middle, and high school, for taking them on trips to new parts of the country, for being a good example, for being a leader in the church and community. One or two of them remembered to thank him for providing a comfortable home, and acknowledged how hard he works to provide for all of us.

They appreciated him for encouraging them to do some things they really hadn’t wanted to do, such as trying out for the high school soccer team, the high school musical, and the mock trial team, and, in the case of our oldest son, for challenging him to complete his Eagle Scout project. One thanked him for the time he went to bat and met with the science teacher about a science fair project that had received a rating that was lower than expected, especially when compared with other projects we had seen (and that was the only time we ever met with a teacher over a grade). The teacher's name was Mr. Budge and he didn't, about the grade, but Dad taking time off work to meet with the teacher on behalf of his son was what counted.

I printed each boy’s list on stationery that matched his own personality, rolled them in ribbon-tied scrolls and presented them to their father for his birthday. Since the boys couldn’t be home, their lists were the next best thing to being there. He read them silently with various expressions crossing his face: smiles, once in a while a furrowed brow, and sometimes misty eyes.

These lists are precious and not only do they pay tribute to my husband and the father of my children, they document where each son was in his own life - - what qualities they valued and wanted to obtain in their own characters, and the particular memories that had shaped their own concepts of fatherhood. I’m sure that the next time I ask for lists, they will be very different, as all three boys have moved forward in their lives, all three in different directions. We embrace the diverse paths they are taking and the growth they are making.

I’m sure the husband or father in your life has his eye on a power saw or drill or an interesting gadget or two. He may even say he needs socks and underwear, but in addition to buying him any of the above, take the time to write a list of your favorite qualities about him.

And don’t forget to get a tie for him, too, even if he insists he doesn’t need one.


ali said...

Since my husband is not gainfully employed at the moment, I love your idea of the list! My boys are still little - only 7 - so their list might be particularly fun and interesting especially if I do them every ten years so!

Great idea Janet, thank you!

Anna Maria Junus said...

What a great idea! And something very memorable.

Candace E. Salima said...

Wow, what a beautiful post, Janet. I really liked it. Since both my husband's and my fathers are gone, Father's Day almost slipped past me. Thanks for the beautiful reminder.