What I got for Christmas in 1956, just a few days before I turned two years old: a baby doll with her very own buggy, a football, a polka-dotted nightgown, and a gun-and-holster set with the requisite accompanying cowboy hat.
I’ll leave it to you to guess which gifts were chosen by Mrs. Claus and which gifts her husband picked out.
I don’t actually remember that Christmas, of course, but I’ve seen it replayed countless times in grainy home movies. And I don’t remember how old I was when, after watching that movie yet again, I asked my daddy if he’d wanted a son instead of a daughter. He looked at me as though I’d asked if he wished I had gills instead of lungs.
“No,” he said, shaking his head emphatically. “I just wanted a kid who’d play football and cowboys-and-Indians with me.”
Much to my mother’s chagrin, I did turn out to be that kind of kid. But after my brother Rusty was born, I began to worry that he’d soon be the one getting the good presents. Now that my parents had a boy, would my Christmases and birthdays be filled with tea party dishes and toy vacuum cleaners and—heaven forbid—more baby dolls?
Yes. For a while, anyway.
It wasn’t until I was seven years old that Mrs. Claus finally gave up on those things and started leaving gifts that were more to my liking under the Christmas tree. When I’d squeal in delight over a pair of roller skates or a state-of-the-art yo-yo or a book of knock-knock jokes, Mother would shake her head in a sad kind of way and say, “I suppose this means you’ll never want a dollhouse.”
Such memories wash over me whenever Father’s Day rolls around. Though my daddy hasn’t been on this earth to celebrate it for many, many years, I pause on the third Sunday in May to remember the priceless gifts he gave me. He taught me to water ski. To throw and catch a baseball. To dig for earthworms, though he never succeeded in making me like to fish. To play poker. To shoot a b-b gun. To solve an algebra problem. To pump my own gas and to drive a stick shift.
More than that, he encouraged me to speak my mind and to back my opinions up with facts. To stick with a task until it was finished. To never say can’t and never say die. To refuse to take a back seat to anyone because I was a girl.
Four of my five grandchildren—Emmie, June, Clara and Josephine–are girls. My hope for them, and for grandson Eli, is that my son and my sons-in-law will treat their children as Daddy treated my siblings and me. That this new generation of fathers will love and accept their children as they are and will encourage their strengths and interests. That they’ll be happy whether the kids want an Easy Bake Oven or a Tonka truck. Whether they’d rather weave baskets or play basketball. Whether they choose to read Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys (though I’m not sure children read either of those wonderful series in this day and age). Whether they major in engineering or English or economics or don’t go to college at all.
Because that’s what the very best daddies do. And it’s why we celebrate their special day at this time every year.
(June 21, 2015)