Father's Day. I wrote a Father's Day column. Which you can read after the jump if you wish.
Father's Day gifts
By Edward Cone
News & Record
My father told me he loved me every day until the day he died. He just did not say it in so many words.
I doubt my father's father ever told him, "I love you," either; I know he never spoke the words to me, although he, too, made his affection abundantly clear. They both sprang from a tribe of politely repressed German Jews, which may have had something to do with their reticence on matters emotional, but it was rooted in the broader culture, too. Talking about feelings just wasn't the way men did things back then.
My dad, who died in 1987, would have been nonplussed by the recent rise of the man-hug. I don't think I ever got more out of him than a firm handshake. But he expressed his love for my sister and me in the ways that really mattered, and in ways we understood -- by working hard and providing generously, by being firm and fair and present, by honoring the "until death do us part" aspect of his marriage vows to our mother.
It wasn't that my father lacked for verbal chops. He was very funny and quite forthcoming when it came to Shostakovich or automobiles or the Charlie Justice era of Tar Heel football, but he was laconic when it came to the mushy stuff. He was stoic, too, the way men used to be. Once he put a drill bit through his thumb, and I asked him if it hurt, and he said, calmly, "Of course it hurt, I put a drill bit through my thumb," and that was the end of that. Existential angst was a given with him, but complaining was not acceptable. Imagine the love child of Gary Cooper and Woody Allen, and you'll get the idea.
My father was not my pal. That was not in his paternal job description. We enjoyed each other greatly, but we were not peers. He expected me to be respectful and useful and to fulfill whatever potential I might have, and he met even the most detailed and sincere explanation for a job left unfinished with the same response: "Ohhh, you have an excuse." He believed in the Boy Scout Law, although cheerfulness made him suspicious and he really did not do reverent very well. He was clear on his goals for his children: We were supposed to become independent adults.
Times change, sometimes too much. Now we've got helicopter parents hovering over their children's every activity, and in the process taking a lot of the fun out of childhood. The old verities are breaking down. I read a letter to the editor recently saying it was terrible to make a big deal about Roger Federer crying after he won the French Open, because we've worked so hard for so long to let men know it's OK to cry. I found myself wondering if it's also OK for men not to cry, because that's kind of what I've been teaching around our house. No sense bottling things up until you explode, but a little strong and silent never hurt anyone, did it?
Oh, we're modern parents. I tell my kids I love them all the time, and my 17-year-old son coaxes me into a big bro-embrace when the situation strikes him as appropriate. But talk is cheap. None of it would mean very much if I wasn't walking it, too, the way my own father, and my grandfathers, taught me.
This country is a couple of generations into its great national experiment with fatherless families. I don't think it's going that well. Of all the blessings I've enjoyed in my rather fortunate life, good parents, including my old-school dad, are at the top of the list. On Father's Day, and the 364 days on either side of it, that's what I'd like to pass along to my own children.
© News & Record 2009