Roughly a billion dollars is spent each year on Father’s Day. It isn’t surprising, however, that when the holiday began in 1910 it was not widely celebrated. My dad always said holidays had gotten out of control and that, more than anything else, they best served to line the pockets of greeting card companies. I tend to agree with him. A family newspaper, however, is not the place to attack the gray areas of capitalism that surround celebrating holidays such as that of Father’s Day. Instead, I’d like to address that which I imagine to have been the more altruistic platform upon which such a day was invented.
When sons and daughters reflect on their mothers and fathers they are forced to either face a mirror image of themselves, a bundle of flaws they hope never to possess, or the plain and simple fear that the person they see is one whose high water mark is seemingly unreachable. When I look at my dad and consider the most important things he tried to put in me, I sometimes find myself withholding a bit of fear that I may never level up to the mark. If I had to narrow the intangible principles that were stressed throughout my upbringing to a Top Five, they would rank as follows:
Number 5: Flexibility: “Don’t be too particular about every little thing you do. Nobody likes being around somebody who always has to have their way.”
Number 4: Toughness: “Whatever ails you may hurt right now, but it won’t last forever. Suck it up and keep moving forward. It’s the only way.”
Number 3: Big-Picture Thinking: “Don’t get so hung up on little things that you find yourself incapable of zooming out and seeing the big-picture. And don’t get so hung up on yourself that you forget to tend to the little things.”
Number 2: Humility: “If you’re ever good enough at anything that it is worth talking about, you won’t need to speak a word of it yourself. Everyone else will do it for you.”
Number 1: Counting back from five, the first four could be easily summarized with quotes I heard time and again throughout my entire life. But number one isn’t so much a quotable phrase or sentence. My dad wasn’t necessarily big on gushy words about how much he loved my sisters and me. He tells us he loves us, sure, but more than anything else he constantly shows us a greater affection of unconditional love than any son or daughter need expect. Take, for example, the time he made an 8-hour roundtrip to Austin just to install a garden fence while my wife and I were at work because he heard her complain once that the chicken-wire she installed was falling down. By the time we got home, we didn’t find him, just a sturdy new wooden fence bordering the garden. Or, there was the time he heard me mention that I wanted to build a table top to set on a tree stump from a tree that “fell” down in our yard. A month later I drove into my parents’ driveway for the Christmas holiday, and the topper was leaning against the garage, built solid and to perfection by my father’s own hands.
The examples are endless, much like that of Dad’s watchful and caring disposition. And when I consider who he is, I find – that more than anything – I am forced to consider who I am. Do I add up? Would he be proud? Should I be proud? These are the questions that pass through my head.
How about you? Your dad? What can thinking about him teach you about you?
Happy Father’s Day to all of you dads out there. May your weekend be relaxing and your children be thoughtful.
Matthew Thornton is an Austin-based artist and a history teacher. Originally from Corpus Christi, his wide-sweeping artistic interests range from writing and film-making to photography and painting. His work and studies explore patterns within the endless nuance of life as he remains constantly in search of the so-called, “big picture”.