To the "Different" Dads

by Chuck Gerhart

To the Different Dads

Fathers are known for rough and tumble, for wild wresting, and for bringing the Tickle Monster to their child's belly.

Fathers teach their sons to climb trees, to throw a ball, and make a tackle. Stand like a man and work like a mule. Look the bully in the eye and "give him a right cross just like I taught you".

Some fathers sit for hours in tiny chairs playing tea party with their precious daughters, teach them to choose the right man, and demand respect from that young man before he has to teach the fellow manners himself.

Fathers stand almost in God's place at curfew time just in case an adolescent son gets the idea that dad's rules are no longer applicable, that he needs to be unseated, that dad can't do anything to him anyway.

Fathers make their families feel secure walking across a dark parking lot at closing time, going into a corner store in a rough neighborhood, or correcting another parent who is being rude.

That is what fathers are like. Well, some are like that.

Some fathers are forced into other roles. With broken bodies, they can no longer cast the long shadow, instill proper fear, and protect loved ones. They must find other ways to be dad -- a new definition must be forged in order to remain relevant. So amid their loss and grieving, pain and uncertainty, they shape little lives in the only way left to them. By example, they model perseverance, courage, tenacity, and empathy. They must be gentle now, for there is no longer a capacity to force compliance. Behavior is now shaped by instilling understanding instead of fear. Permission for a boy to cry is easily granted by a father who has as his constant companion his own sorrow. Achievement is no longer king, but has been usurped by overcoming.

So today, my hat is off to disabled dads who from their hospital beds, wheelchairs, or own private Hell keep their mission in sight, fight back the memories of when they were whole, cry before their family, fall down -- but get back up. And in the rising again, in the struggle, in the abandonment of the devilish notion that their family would be better off without them, they reach down inside and up to their own Father for the graces to be the best dad they can be for just one more day.

There are different kinds of dads. Today is Father's Day for all of them.

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