Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Today's Moment of Dad..."A Dad for All Seasons"

Today's "Moment of Dad"...I'm not sure how to approach this.

Hillary Rodham Clinton repeated the African saying "It takes a village" several times during her reign as First Lady.

My father lived it, as does my mother to this day.

For as long as I can remember, both Mom & Dad encouraged us to make friends at school, in church, and other places we might be in our day-to-day activities. This was tempered with sensibility, of course. What parent hasn't said to their children, "If everyone jumped off a bridge, would you?" (I did jump off a bridge once because a friend told me to, but that's another story.)

However, it's a point of pride for me (and Ruthi too) that many of our friends, from childhood to the present day, adopted both our parents as honorary "mom & dad". Mom got hugs and kisses, and I don't want to downplay her role as a good parent, but Dad

This was especially true in high school...many of my female friends would run up to my dad, hug him tight and say, "HI DAD!" with a kiss on the cheek. Some of the girls' fathers weren't quite sure what to make of it, and others just shrugged it off.

At a wedding of one of my high school friends, we made our way through the receiving line and the bride (who was a tiny thing at 5'2") jumped up and hugged my dad while squealing, "DAD!!!". The mother of the bride had to explain to several puzzled friends and relatives that this man wasn't REALLY her daughter's dad, just the father of a close friend.

Another time being an "adopted dad" created an interesting scenario was when I was in junior high school. I had a good friend from Vietnam named Lo-an, who lived in a foster home and had four other siblings. One of them was probably two years old or so...maybe younger...she was just starting to talk, if I remember right.

Anyway, Lo-an and I were in choir together, and Dad and I came to Lo-an's house to pick her up for the concert.

Lo-an jumped up and squeezed my dad around the neck, saying, "DADDY!" Dad was used to this, and so was I.

However, Lo-an's youngest foster sister (the baby), looked at my dad with a quizzical expression on her face and said, "Daddy?"

Lo-an's foster dad picked the baby up and gently explained that no, this man wasn't her daddy...but he wasn't mad or anything. He was just a cog in the process of explanation, as many other folks would be in the years to come.

Those who didn't call my dad "Dad" still liked him. Several friends (male and female) called him "cool". I thought my dad was cool too, but I'd also seen him in several uncool moments (i.e. the garlic toast incident, and others of that nature). I didn't want to shatter their illusions, though.

As time passed and my sister had her own children, Dad was still Dad to many folks, but now had an additional distinction - "John-Grandpa".

Oh, how he loved being John-Grandpa. I grew up with one grandpa that was a jerk, and one grandpa that was loving yet kind of shy. Dad was neither of those things.

From the time Ruthi's kids were born, John-Grandpa dived into the role of grandparent with great relish. He changed diapers, fed and burped, cleaned up puke, and many other unpleasant duties. He also cuddled them, read to them, kissed them, and was never shy about saying that he loved them - even the boy!

So of course, it was only a matter of time that his grandchildren's friends also "adopted" Dad as their own and called him "John-Grandpa" right along with them. He gave them hugs and kisses too, right alongside his own grandkids.

When Dad was in the final phases of his life, my mom reported that several of the grandkids' friends were there as well, saying their goodbyes. The day of the funeral, they should have just closed the junior high school, because several kids came to the service. The fact that Dad's funeral meant so much to these kids is a true testament to his ability to love outside his family sphere.

I don't know if I'll ever have that capacity for love and acceptance, but if I do, I can honestly say it's a gift from my father. I hope I never lose it.