Fathers are an endangered species in our society. Too many men shirk their responsibilities. They decide the burden is too much for them. Others allow themselves to be forced out of their children's lives by angry women and a hostile court system. Some don't live long enough to finish the job. Thankfully, we also have a lot of men that step in when the original candidate fails. And what thanks do they get? A constant reminder that they're not "Real Dads."
How many times has an ungrateful child uttered the words "You're not my REAL DAD! You can't tell me what to do." The media is no help. Michael Reagan is always referred to as "the adopted son of Ronald Reagan," as if that distinction needs to be made. I recently read a news story of a man who left his daughter in a hot car to die. Fox referred to him as the "adopted father" at least 3 times in their report. I'm not sure if that was supposed to make the tragedy better or worse. And I can personally testify as an adopted child, people continuously question me about whether I know my "Real Dad."
I have lacked many things in my life: financial security, a decent metabolism, physical coordination. But I HAD a Real Dad.
My Real Dad was the guy who desperately returned the call of the adoption agency begging to know if they still had the baby girl available.
My Real Dad gave me his last name and his mother's first name.
My Real Dad was the guy who taught me how to ride a bike. And throw a ball. And drive a car. In HIS CAR. Which was a stick shift. (If I live to be 100 I will always remember him telling me "OK, let's try that again. And this time LET THE CLUTCH OUT SLOWLY!")
My real Dad is the man who turned around after a 3 hour car ride and drove back to the motel to retrieve my favorite stuffed animal when I was three years old.
My Real Dad built me a dollhouse out of a kit - a task that took him 8 months to complete.
My Real Dad picked came to the hospital emergency room after I was in a car accident because my mother was too upset. And he didn't even say the words "I told you so" after he had warned me about going out that night.
My Real Dad once threatened to be cleaning his shotgun when my date came to pick me up. When I pointed out to him that he didn't OWN a shotgun, he said "I'm going to GET a shotgun."
My Real Dad bought me a horse and went riding with me every Sunday afternoon.
My Real Dad kept my mother from killing me when I died my hair blonde.
My real Dad sat through countless ballet recitals, piano recitals and choral concerts.
My Real Dad drove a U-Haul with all of my stuff in it through ten states to drop me off at my dream college even though it nearly killed him. And he bought me the plane ticket to come home when I called him crying about how miserable I was.
My Real Dad took me to baseball games, football games, the circus, the movies and the park. The last movie we ever saw together was "Lady and the Tramp." I was twenty at the time. He looked around the theater and said "We're the only people here without children" and I replied "Hey, I'm YOUR kid!"
My Real Dad always encouraged me to be a writer.
My Real Dad was always waiting for me at the gate whenever I got off an airplane, back when they used to allow you to do that.
My Real Dad once told me that the second happiest day of my life would be the day I left home. And the happiest day would be the day I cam back. He was right on both counts.
My Real Dad didn't live long enough to see me graduate from college, or get married, or read this column.
I have missed him every single day for the last thirty years.
What makes a Real Dad? It's certainly not biology. It's love. And commitment. And hard work. So Happy Father's Day to all of you Real Dads out there. But a very extra special Happy Father's Day to all of you men out there that came in as relief pitchers to finish off the game someone else started but couldn't finish. I hope you get more than just a tie for your efforts.