While waiting for my older son to arrive at Boston’s Logan Airport late the other night, I saw a young father wheeling an overburdened luggage cart, his wife a few feet behind him, a sleeping toddler in his pajamas in her arms. I remember flights like that: for many years when our kids were young we flew from Boston to Oregon for a beach vacation with their cousins and grandparents. Those were l-o-n-g flights and we carried many a sleeping or cranky child in our arms through airport terminals in those days.
In some ways I’m glad those days are over – they look exhausting; they were exhausting – but I can’t help feeling a twinge of envy for those weary parents, too. I’ll be 60 in a few months: my older son just graduated from college and the younger one from high school. They’re turning pages, but so am I, and I regret that I’m much closer to the end of the book than I was during those interminable flights to Oregon, diaper bag under the seat and squirmy toddler on my lap.
Early on in their lives I sensed time would pass quickly. As any parent knows, the days and nights can pass very slowly, but the years fly by. That’s why I was determined to find work that would give me the ability to be home as they were growing up. I was terrified that if I didn’t I’d look back one day and realize I missed it, that I was stuck in traffic during their Little League games, or on the road at a business meeting when their teeth fell out.
It wasn’t obvious to me when they were young, but fatherhood is a lifetime commitment. Their problems change, their needs evolve (mostly they become more expensive), and their expectations of their parents become harder to discern, but in many ways children never stop depending on you no matter how old they are. Even when I’m feeble and, heaven forbid, dependent on them in some way, they will, I suspect, still have expectations, even if it’s just that I should live to see another day.
Father’s Day, like Mother’s Day, seems awfully contrived, a boon to florists, retailers, and greeting card manufacturers that has more than a whiff of obligation about it. But what parent wouldn’t be at least slightly pained if their children let it pass unnoticed?
Few parents I know took the job, if one can call it that, so they could collect their children’s appreciation or because they wanted to be the object of a national holiday. (Some fathers, like the father of our country, get a whole day to themselves; the rest of us have to be content sharing the glory with several million other people.) But I’m probably not alone in thinking that my kids take a lot for granted. We all did when we were growing up; our parents’ hard work and sacrifice is something we could only appreciate when we became parents ourselves.
So, I will open the cards and the gifts and be truly grateful for them. I’ll miss my own dad and be grateful for all he gave me, too. But mostly I will be grateful for the privilege of being the father to two fine sons, even if they sometimes call me “Pete.”