On Fathers

Fathers are like shepherds. They find us when we are lost. They protect us from scattering too far. In their love for us, they un-scatter us. They bring us home. 

Mid-June often seems to me a time of summer scattering until the gathering together of fall. It is both an ending and a beginning. 

We graduate, we vacation, we shift into a different tempo. Children move from school’s structured days to summer camps and summer sessions. They continue their lessons, but in one-week or two-week time bursts. I sometimes wonder if any spend their summers as I did in the ‘fifties – biking to the library, reading, climbing trees and building tree-forts, digging with teaspoons to make mud pies to serve alongside imaginary tea from real china cups (yes, my mother knew), selling lemonade from a card table (5 cents), dancing through sprinklers in the heat of July. Frequent games of tag. Lotsa running. Hopscotch and jump-rope. Badminton. Jacks. Playing outside till dusk turned dark.

I don’t recall being bored, but I have to admit, when mid-August arrived I looked forward to school starting in September. My mother bought plaid wool by the yard and sewed new skirts for my sister and me. We looked forward to the yearly shopping trip to Union Square in San Francisco for matching cardigans, winter coats, and saddle shoes, maybe white bucks. We looked forward to our special treat – Coffee Crunch Cake at Blum’s.

For the most part we stayed home or carried home with us on house trailer trips. We did not scatter into classes, sports, structured times that would entertain us, pull us apart. It seems to me, looking back, that my sister and I also saw more of my father during the summer, because of the slower pace and the lack of scattering, but that might be an illusion of the past. 

We honor our fathers this Father’s Day. We honor those who pull us back into our family, un-scatter us, regroup us, reground us. Mothers of course do this too, but fathers have a role unique to their gender, unquantifiable, indescribable, perhaps unlimited in its stunning influence. Mothers give life; they feed and clothe, no small thing. Fathers make it possible for mothers to mother. Fathers shelter and protect; they guard and redeem. They carry their children home like shepherds carrying lost sheep. 

My father’s income as a pastor, shepherd to his Presbyterian flock, was meager and our sole support, for my mother did not work outside the home. We had one car and it seemed adequate from my child’s viewpoint. We lived in a manse. But there were fights over money and spending and pennies saved, heated discussions that flared on the edges of my younger years. Even so, my sister and I were sheltered from the brunt of these storms, and we led an un-scattered childhood, one focused on family, church, school, and gathering together at meals and bath and bedtime. And even though there were few pennies saved, I learned discipline as I worked my way through college. I valued every penny earned. 

I recall a giant fir that shaded our front lawn. How many summers did I spend stretched out on the grass, munching an apple and reading in the cool of that tree? A father is like that tree, offering a place to rest in the heat of the day. My father was like that, and I was happy. I grow happy now as I write this, thinking about those years. And I am so thankful. 

It was a simpler time, they say, and today is different with more distractions. I suppose. Simpler time or not, meager income or not, my father gave me a grounding that I shall never lose, even as I scatter myself and am scattered by the grown-up winds and rain that rage about me, scattered by the structured distractions of this un-simple time. 

My father passed away from ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) in 1981, age sixty-four, thirty-two years ago on May 14. We didn’t have much and that may even have been a good thing, for we were rich in our love for one another. We held each other close, not pushed apart, and my father always found us if we stayed out too long playing on those hot summer nights. He found us and brought us inside for Scrabble, Clue, and bedtime stories. 

He was a shepherd and he cared for his sheep.

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