Updated: May 7, 2019
If you were lucky enough to grow up during the Baby Boomer years, you were lucky enough. It was a simpler time when Hugh Beaumont’s portrayal of Ward Cleaver in 1957’s Leave It to Beaver seemed to be the norm and Howard Cunningham (Tom Bosley) made sure his family experienced nothing but “happy days.” Father’s Day is the perfect time to sit back and reminisce about the father figures that helped form the darlings we are today.
Like many of you, I grew up in a Mayberry-like setting during a time when life was safer and less complicated. My daddy was a good provider who made sure to remember to bring home a surprise coconut peppermint stick (the likes of which I haven’t been able to find in decades) when Christmas rolled around and who, years later, stuck a shaking 15-year-old girl behind the wheel of a what seemed to me to be a massive Pontiac Bonneville and said, “Ok, you’re gonna learn to drive. Take your foot off the brake and let’s go.”
He was one of two men who left a huge impression on my life. I spent a lot of time in the quaint little town of Burton, where my maternal grandfather would often walk with me to the local grocery store for a summer treat. It was there I learned that respite from the sweltering Texas heat could be found in a cone of strawberry ice cream that dripped down my spindly, mosquito-bitten, Calamine-lotioned legs. (see photo, bottom of page)
Days like those are what made icons of men like Jim Anderson (Father Knows Best, 1954) and Sheriff Andy Taylor (The Andy Griffith Show, 1960). That type of nostalgia is the reason we find ourselves binge-watching reruns hoping to catch a glimpse of Aunt Bee showing up at a church picnic with fried chicken and all the trimmings (minus the “kerosene cucumbers” and “ammonia marmalade”).
Family life was depicted as wholesome, loving and witty and any problem that dared to dent the middle-class-America utopian image could quickly be handled by dear old Dad within the parameters of a 30-minute comedic episode.
It was a time when men were the head of the household, and black and white television screens had you believing women stayed home to raise the kids, clean the house and prepare the meals — all while wearing pearls, heels and lipstick.
Most of today’s dads are much more involved with their kids’ diaper changes, feedings and night-shifts than they were back then. The role of dad has morphed into something that will eventually offer a new version of nostalgia for Generation X and their Millennial counterparts. The memories for that demographic might involve Daddy sitting at seemingly never-ending dance recital rehearsals instead of warming a chair while smoking a pipe and reading the newspaper; challenging their offspring to a Minecraft session instead of a game of Checkers; and teaching them to drive a Smart Car instead of a clumsy gas-guzzler. But rest assured, when the third Sunday in June rolls around, they too will remember the men who made a difference in their lives.
What really makes a man worthy of the "Daddy” label? Is the term to be reserved solely for the biological father? Should it be tossed around carelessly to anyone who’s “present for the moment?” Or does the term of endearment belong to the man who willfully invests the sometimes-grueling years of blood, sweat and tears required to keep the kids out of Leavenworth and, instead, help them become a productive member of society?
When my twin boys lost their 49-year-old biological father suddenly to heart failure on their Confirmation Day, they were devastated— and only 12-years-old. I eventually married a man who assumed the voluntary role of Dad in every way. Years later, while driving home with the now-teenage kids in the back seat and their stepdad (what an ugly word) away at work, Brad Paisley’s “He Didn’t Have to Be” came on the radio and my son Chris said, “Mom, when I get married, I’m going to have them dedicate that song to Lanny.”
I was very touched by the fact that he thought so much of his stepfather but didn't dwell on it. Instead, I mentally filed the moment away as a special memory. Then, at the age of 26, Chris married Chassidy and instantly became the bonus-Dad to her daughter.
At their wedding reception, the DJ announced that the groom had a special dedication in honor of his stepfather. I was stunned— I had known nothing about it. And when it was announced that the tribute was the song he pledged to have played at this wedding those many years ago (“He Didn’t Have to Be”), there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
Of course, not all men deserve the respectful title, and I would be remiss to imply that every child’s experience was positive. Many adults spend years in therapy, trying to dig out of the hole of emptiness that their daddies created. Suffice it to say, somewhere along the way, with a little luck and a lot of prayer, peace is found and their lives go on in spite of their rough start.
So if the Archie Bunker type was your role model, or if you grew up in a home where “Father Knows Best” was nothing more than a 50s’ sitcom, put a steak on the grill on Sunday and toast to the fact that you survived. And if you were fortunate enough to sit on the porch while your “Andy Taylor” type father figure played guitar after a long day of fishing with you, then remember the “dear old Dad” or Grandpa in your life with a grateful heart, a warm smile — and maybe a sticky-sweet strawberry ice cream cone. Then catch a couple of syndicated television re-runs of your favorite classics, just for old times' sake.
And for the record, yes. Both of my sons are "at least, half the daddy that [their stepdad] didn't have to be"...
Have a wonderful Father's Day,
When I was a kid, I said to my father one afternoon, 'Daddy, will you take me to the zoo?' He answered, 'If the zoo wants you, let them come and get you.’ Jerry Lewis
For a close-up look at an iconic father through the eyes of his daughter, read the abridged version of my article about Willie Nelson. "Paula Nelson Reveals the Man Behind the Legend" http://texasfarmandhome.com/2017/06/21/willie-nelson/
When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years. Mark Twain
How Father’s Day Became a Tradition
Two different versions exist as to how this special day came to be acknowledged. The first involves Grace Golden Clayton of Fairmont, West Virginia. Clayton suggested to the local Methodist minister in 1908 that services should be held to celebrate fathers, after 361 men were killed in West Virginia's horrific Monongah mine explosion, dubbed "the worst mining disaster in American History."
The second version involves Sonora Smart Dodd who, while sitting in church during a Mother’s Day service in 1909, decided there should be a day to honor dedicated fathers like her own. William Jackson Smart, a Civil War veteran, singlehandedly raised her and her siblings after his wife died giving birth to their sixth child.
Although President Lyndon Johnson issued the first presidential proclamation honoring fathers in 1966, it was Richard Nixon who signed the law in 1972 that made Father’s Day a permanent holiday.
In Honor of Daddies Who Are No Longer With Us
Say not in grief ‘he is no more’, but in thankfulness that he was.
Small Town Texas Memories (Written for my sweet Grandpa, pictured here with me)
The steamy ground found itself speckled
by the brown cedar shavings of his labors—
A simple wooden spoon that I, a child of only six,
would use in creating imaginary delicacies
fit for the king that I thought he was.
The old man’s tired eyes found lost emotion revived as he worked.
He spoke passionately of how the gypsies
would “white-wash” his house
before the sun went down…
only later to find that the newly painted domain would coat the ground with milky white when the first rains came.
He told me how the hobos would jump the nine o’clock train,
smelling of cheap whiskey and too many days in the sun,
and find their way to his door
to beg for fresh bread and small change.
Now the grass beneath my feet on certain August nights
still extends its dry blades of summer’s heat
to catch cedar shavings that no longer fall;
and the night is pierced with the silence of trains
that no longer pass.
But the tiny wooden spoon still stirs the memories
of cedar chip days
and gypsy tales that faded
as surely as the vagabond’s last knock
on a door that no one answered.