Father’s Day was always celebrated big in our house even though it seemed that mom usually got the better gifts and the grander celebration on her day in May. Not sure why that was other than I think we assumed that Dad didn’t care as much about all the stuff. Truth be told, he seemed happiest when we were all simply together.
(My dad is still like that to this day--even after having celebrated 56 of these dad’s days to date--he says the stuff doesn’t matter, it’s the people who do).
And because Father’s Day always fell on a Sunday, we girls would typically give him breakfast in bed with a couple of presents before church. Growing up we didn’t have a lot of money to buy anything extravagant. Yet as I think back now, I see how that allowed us to get our creative juices flowing at an early age. I remember one year when I was about 12 that I painted words on a big rock: “Turn me over please” was strategically placed on one side with “Thanks, that feels much better” on the other. My dad thought it was hilarious, and he proudly displayed it on his office desk--which made me very happy and equally proud.
There’s something about a dad’s approval that can take something commonplace and inexpensive and turn it into a valued masterpiece.
But it was actually our homemade cards with hand-written coupons inside that made Dad smile the most. I think some of his favorites were the “free” backrub, the car wash, and the promise to bake him a big batch of his favorite peanut butter cookies. And though the bulk of the coupons were rarely redeemed (I’m guessing he forgot about them as each year passed on), it was the love, thought, and intention that mattered more than anything to him.
I heard an interview recently where Bishop T.D. Jakes was talking about parenting and said, “It’s not what you leave to them that makes them great, it’s what you leave in them.”
I am living proof of that. I didn’t grow up with extravagance, yet I always had enough. Even as I ponder now the contrast of my dad’s upbringing to mine, I realize that having just enough was a gift (though, if I’m honest, I often wished I had the cool stuff that the “popular kids” had and didn’t see this as much of a gift at the time).
My dad’s backstory is that he grew up in extreme poverty on the South Side of Chicago and worked from the time he was six years old, helping his brothers with their paper routes. His dauntless work ethic and fearless determination set in motion some incredible relational skills and courageous strength that he drew upon years later when he sold cookware and life insurance as a door-to-door salesman in San Francisco.
My dad’s father was an alcoholic and abandoned the family when he was only seven or eight years old. Survival in South Chicago meant joining a gang, so my dad joined one when he was just eleven years old. He didn’t get out until he was sixteen. In fact, my dad still has scars on his body that mark that time in his life. It was a classic example of the survival of the fittest, and somehow my dad survived despite having been dealt a really crappy hand. He literally didn’t have much security, stability, nurture, or guidance from anyone in his life.
Yet because my dad had to be resourceful as a kid, he brought that skill into his fathering. Here are some examples of things that cost him almost nothing in the monetary sense, but were forever deposits because he gave us the gift of himself:
He’d lie down on the living room floor after dinner and, as loud as he could, pretend he was sleeping and snoring while we girls would sneak up on him, only to have him grab one of our legs and set off a giggle fest that filled every inch of the room.
He built us a scooter out of a milk crate and a skateboard.
When tucking us into bed he would make up unique, creative, engaging stories accompanied with a ritual where he would close his eyes and let us “put his thinking cap on” until he came up with a “just right” scenario.
He wrote rhyming poems to us, often leaving them on the kitchen counter to discover on mornings when he left the house early.
He turned a one-room bedroom into a modified two-room “suite” by building a wall in the center with a hanging curtain in the doorway to divide the two sides, all so his two oldest daughters each felt like they had a room of their own.
When camping as a family, he bought each of us girls a miniature pocket knife, and taught us how to make a whistle from a stick.
He can fix almost anything---from watches to cars to computers to hot tubs to rooftops to broken appliances.
He still fixes my broken things….and mows my lawn.
Why do I share these stories about my dad?
To serve as a reminder that Father’s Day isn’t about the stuff. It’s about the relationship between you and your kids.
It’s about celebrating the one-on-one time you spend doing things with them to create lasting memories. It’s not about the money, it’s about the experiences. It’s about bringing yourself to the table, not your work. It’s about being invested in the things your kids care about while you teach them life lessons in the process.
YOU, Dad, are the gift that keeps on giving.
YOU are the best gift in the world to your kids. I hope you never underestimate the value you have in their lives, whether they realize it now or not.
I pray that you will reap a rich harvest on Father’s Day in like kind to the seeds you’ve sown the other 364 days of the year as a result of investing your time, your attention, and yourself into the lives of your kids.
I celebrate you as a father today, along with the other 70.1+ million dads in America who have the incredibly important role of fathering your kids. You are vital to the health and well-being of our country, and the more you give of yourself to your children, the stronger and healthier our nation will be.
I really do hope you feel loved and appreciated today. Happy Father’s Day, Dad, from my heart to yours.