So I just put my eldest daughter on a plane for her first solo trip away from home to a young leaders conference in Washington DC. Due to the weather, the flight that was supposed to have been wheels up by nine a.m. finally departed at one-fifteen p.m. As if the trip wouldn’t have been stressful enough for the both of us of on a good day, the weather decided to add an extra level of concern for the both of us, as brave as we tried to be for each other. I waited in the boarding queue with her until the line started down the ramp, as she kept pushing her hand in the small of my back to shoo me away. She couldn’t bring herself to hug me in front of all the strangers surrounding us, her eyes probably every bit as moist as mine. Have a great time honey, daddy loves you. Farewell on this fathers day. Please come home again; I’ll lay awake until you do.

Dad has all the embarrassing photos...

Dad has all the embarrassing photos…

If you were to peer under my desk at home, you’d find a small shelf no wider than some of the largest books I have standing on it. You’d also find three rather non-descript storage totes, two the size of large shoeboxes, one the shape of a pizza box, only twice as high. The boxes are ornamental, fabric covered, and they match the decor of my office. They also contain some of my most valuable possessions. Every once in a while, or truthfully more often than that, I like to open one or more of these boxes and admire the riches inside, hold them, spread them out on the desk and marvel at their inestimable value. The irreplaceable collections in these little decorative storage bins certainly need a more secure location than the foot of my desk; maybe I need a small safe or a safety deposit box. Of course, that would make them less accessible and who wants that? No, the little storage bins will have to do. The two smaller shoe-sized boxes are labeled “Photos” and “Videos.” The larger box is labeled “Dad’s memory box.”

I don’t even have a camcorder that can play the little tapes anymore. I burned through that machine after years of abuse at recitals, band concerts, trips to the beach, and all around constant pounding on various playgrounds. The very first video I ever took with it is sound only; I was hiding in another room, trying not to distract my eldest daughter who was probably three at the time. As she busied herself with whatever toy was holding her focus, probably her blocks, she was singing happily, not loudly but very strong and clear. I couldn’t bring myself to intrude on the moment and I just let the audio catch her for what seemed like five minutes of one of the most beautiful sounds I have ever heard. The dozens and dozens of other tapes are all like that, all neatly labeled with dates and in numbered sequence. I have to find some way to get them off the tape so I can view them.

It’s the same with the box marked “Photos.” Every digital picture I have ever taken of the kids is backed up on CD’s, all labeled by date and sequenced. I don’t even know how many thousands of pictures it holds. Enough to actually crash my Imac iphoto library several times. But I still follow the same ritual, year after year, event after event, chronicling each step along their journeys away from me with a melancholy mixture of pride and dread. It is as I had noted before, the unforgiving father clock ticking away unmercifully at the time we have left together as father and child. And I know my place, my charter; give them what they need to be able to fly away from me when they’re ready. Never be willing to let them go but be prepared to give them the push they need. Seems quite unfair, really.

If you were to pick up the box marked “Dad’s memory Box,” you’d probably hear a rattle before you opened the lid. Chances are that there’s at least one piece of macaroni rolling around the bottom somewhere, a derelict decoration straying from the dried glue that held it in place as a border or an accent piece on some beautiful artwork that depicts a breathtaking scene or a magnificent creature. Some of the animals are quite amusing and heartwarming; the stick-legged cat with the sausage body or the graceful unicorn with the beautiful mane that looks too long for the body. Of course because dad loves hippos, there are quite a few of them as well, most with a very wide grin of self-satisfaction.

We celebrate our fathers on father’s day, ostensibly to pay homage to the man who loves and supports his children, earning their love and respect for all he does. I may be biased by the relationship that I don’t have with my own father but that’s not what father’s day means to me, not as a father. No, father’s day for me is about the pride and joy that I have for being allowed by some greater power to have been trusted with this great responsibility for which I have never been trained, for which I was never fully prepared. Father’s day is always a reminder that the appearance of my own children into my life has made this life that much richer, that much fuller and that much more meaningful. Name another role that can instantly give you purpose and clarity; a role I never had to interview for, never had to prepare a resume for, a gift bestowed upon me before I was even remotely wise enough to understand let alone value it. The first time I had those chubby little fingers wrap gently around my index finger, my motto became clear; I only want to be a good father. No greater responsibility can be placed on any man’s shoulders; No greater reward can be had. As always, I will try to live up to my own expectations, and I’m sure I will often fail. But I will never cease to try; I am a father. It’s what we do.

I won’t tell them that the gift I wanted for father’s day was just to be a father to begin with. It feels somewhat greedy, taking gifts from the greatest gifts in my life. But I hope that they give them because they truly love their father; that they want to tell me in some measure that I have done a reasonably good job at this life-long endeavor, this journey with no map, task with no instruction booklet. I count the passing of each father’s day knowing that they will end when I do, not before, but each one more poignant than the last. For soon, father’s day will be a card from a great distance, maybe a cheerful call after dinner or possibly, a dinner out with an extended family. But I will still be introspective; worried that I didn’t get this or that right, that I made some awful mistake, that I didn’t deserve the love they gave me; or I wasn’t the father they deserved. And I’ll smile, thank them profusely for the gifts, letting them have their moment of devotion to their father, all the while secretly thanking the good lord that he put me here, in this place, in this role, giving me a meaning and purpose that many men seem to be missing.

For the greatest gift they could ever give me on father’s day, they have already given; the chance to be their father, loving them unconditionally, being a part of their lives, who they are, were and will become. They can, and I hope will honor me on this day. And I will bask in it, every bit. But later tonight in bed, when the house is silent and I stare at the distant nothingness fading into the night-time ceiling, I will as I always do, hope and pray that I was indeed, up to the task and am truly worthy to be called their father.