I remember Dad suddenly reaching across my 5-year-old lap as our seatbelt-less work van careened around a curve far too fast. My eyes followed his impossibly outstretched arm to where my 2-year-old brother rocked precariously off-balance. And then I saw it. The wide-open door my father was desperately trying to reach, only fingertips controlling the steering wheel. He thrust his body and arm even farther as my brother’s horrific roll increased. Dad grabbed the handle of the far-flung passenger door and slammed it shut.
I knew even then he had saved my brother’s life.
My father was like that. All go. No stop. During his lifetime we heard of many rescues: The little boy choking at a restaurant; the car wreck in the ravine below our house; a person caught in the surf during an ocean-side vacation. There are hero fathers everywhere, and I was lucky to have one of them.
And Dad had genius, too. With a high school education, he and my grade school-educated grandfather built our entire house. He also constructed a large boatbuilding workshop on our property. After purchasing bare hulls from Tollycraft, dad finished several cabin cruisers we would later enjoy.
One time, crossing the Columbia Bar in one of these boats, the seas kicked up so violently that when our vessel was at the low point of a swell there were only walls of dark water all around us and black skies above. Dad didn’t hesitate. Using rope, he lashed my little sister’s wrist to a handle on the bridge console and then my brother’s and finally mine. He didn’t need to tell my mom to hold on — I saw her death grip. We were in grave danger, and he knew no one could fly out of the boat as rescue would be impossible. I shudder to think of the nightmarish pressure he felt. Yet I watched him maneuver us through and out of that maelstrom with all his strength and skill. No doubt, he knew that boat like an extension of himself and pushed it to the limits he knew it possessed, too. Emotionally and physically strong fathers often have to shoulder the weight of a moment that threatens the entire family.
To me, there wasn’t anything my father couldn’t do. But like any of us, he wasn’t perfect. And patience wasn’t his virtue. But forgiveness was, because he understood that everyone needs a break now and then. As a college freshman, I threw a shoe through a large plate glass window. I called my dad at work the next day and confessed. He paid for the window and never told my mom — at my request. Dads are pretty good for stuff like that.
My father also told me I could be anything I wanted to be. The confidence he instilled in me sustains me today. Mothers will always love you. But it’s your dad who you want to make proud, sort of an insurance policy on the love part. My husband, a wonderful father in his own right, likes to quip that there are only two people in the world who you can truly trust: your mother and your father — but you can never be too sure about your father. I was as sure about my father as he was about me.
Some families are fortunate enough to celebrate with their father in-person this Father’s Day. Some children are blessed to have two parents being celebrated as great dads.
But I’m also reminded that in other families there is no father present, or they have suffered the passing of a father. And in some families this Father’s Day, fathers are left grieving for lost children. We have seen much loss these past few years, and it occurs to me that we should all reach out and support any father we know in need of our love. Fathers don’t always show their needs, but they have them. And whether you have your father, or a father figure in your life, or a father who just needs a hand, please do what my dad would do and extend yours.