We interrupt our usual political, philosophical, and other programing to bring you a tribute to fathers, and, since I am writing the piece, this will be in part a tribute to my father, Mr. Henry W. of Chicago.
Why do little girls like to watch their fathers work with their hands? I don't know the answer, but I shouldn't be at all surprised if it were something close to a human universal. My daughters like to watch my husband work at his book-binding hobby, and when I was a little girl, I thought there were few things more interesting than watching my father try to fix things around the house or work at wood finishing projects.
Before he retired, my father was a wood finisher. But despite the fact that he worked very hard at his job, five days a week, he still sometimes found time to do extra projects for other people for a little extra money. He would charge what he called his "Christian rate" to Christian friends. I remember in particular a little drop-leaf table that he refinished for my piano teacher. It seemed to take a long time, and I didn't mind that at all. I don't remember what kind of wood it was, but I loved to watch the whole process. He stripped it and sanded it using gradually finer and finer sandpaper until it was silk-smooth, then he built the finish back up. As I remember it (but it's been many years), it was originally dark, too dark, and it ended up much lighter with the lovely wood grain showing. I don't remember what we talked about. I probably talked most of the time, but that was okay with him.
(And in passing, I remember and honor another man who worked with his hands for hours while children watched--Uncle Walt Kronemeyer, who used to sit cross-legged at Camp Manitoumi making beautiful elephants out of catalpa wood.)
There were other things to watch Dad do--household repairs. These were enlivened by the fact that Dad has little patience with what he considers to be the inferior materials out of which all modern furniture and gadgets are made. Dad never swears, but "what the dickens" is not swearing, and I heard it a lot: "What the dickens were they thinking, making this thing this way?"
On all weekdays, my father was gone in the dark before I was awake. He had a long ride on the bus to his job. In the winter, it was after dark before he got home, too, but my recollection is that he was almost always home in time for us all to have dinner together. One year when I was very young (still in my crib, as I recall it), he went straight to a deacons' meeting at church after work and was not home until late. I demanded to be allowed to stay awake until he came home. I can't recall if I was genuinely worried about him or merely being dictatorial--most likely the latter. But I was allowed to stay up, looking at a Bible picture book, until he came home, and I consented to go to bed.
With telecommuting, flex-time, and other modern inventions, it is sometimes common for people to think of men who work as hard as my father did as being too much absent from their families, but that was never how it seemed. His hours were regular, and he dedicated himself to his family during his off time. (Indeed, I think he did not serve on the board of deacons for very long for that very reason.)
Saturday mornings when I was little were cheerful. No school for my brother and me and no job for Dad, so I got to sleep in and often awoke to the sound of whistling. (To what extent this is a coincidence, I don't know, but my husband is also a great whistler and the envy of his children and students for his whistling.) Dad loved Saturdays and did not try to tiptoe about on a Saturday morning, which was just fine. Sometimes he made pancakes, and it's a funny thing, but the silver dollar ones tasted the best of all.
By this time, you may be wondering where all of this is going, so I should be clear: It isn't going anywhere in particular. If you are a father and are giving your children these sorts of memories, I suggest that you are doing something very right, and I tip my hat to you. It's my opinion that Father's Day should not be a day for lecturing fathers on the heaviness of their responsibilities, as though prima facie they were not fulfilling them. It should be a day for thanking them from the heart.
Gratitude and honor to all good fathers, including my father and my husband. Those of us who have known loving fatherhood do not know where we would be without it.