As Papa Bear and I celebrate this first Father’s Day in our empty nest, I am thinking about my own father and how he embraced this stage in life. Until now I had not given much thought to how fathers feel when their last baby goes off to college. I have poured out my heart about the effect on mothers, especially ones like myself who stayed home full time. This Father’s Day weekend was the first in many years that we have not had a lot going on. Two of our sons are off at college for summer school and football, and the other two working children live in the city and will be out here in the suburbs for a barbecue later today. Yesterday, we enjoyed a true empty-nester Saturday: drank coffee on the patio while the aussiedoodles ran in the yard, went out for lunch, and then leisurely shopped all afternoon at Bass Pro Shops (father’s day choice). Our childfree day was capped off with a steak dinner for two and pinot noir back out on the patio. This is a far cry from the Father’s Days spent at volleyball tournaments or football camps. This morning we woke surrounded, not by our four children bringing a tray with toast, eggs and home-made cards at an early hour, but instead to the snoozing stretched out aussiedoodles who have found their way onto our bed. Papa Bear seems at peace, which makes me think of my own dad after all four of us left the house.
My mother stayed at home, which meant my dad worked hard outside the house every day. As a young child I never knew exactly what he did, something about shopping centers and that he was smart and a tough businessman. He came home tired, read the newspaper, watched tv at night, and then played tennis on weekends. He is a very talented musician and would play the piano often. As the father of four daughters, he always got asked, “No sons?” I don’t know what my witty dad answered but I know he always made us feel like we were exactly what he wanted. He was an involved sports dad, coaching my sisters’ youth basketball team (they even got to play at half-time of one of the Warriors games back in the 1970’s). My dad drove me back and forth to gymnastics and let me jump around the van as he drove (no seatbelts back then). He cheered me on at my soccer games and swim meets. When my interest in sports waned and changed to theater my dad was right there supporting me in the audience. He was involved like this for my three sisters as well.
So when the last daughter went off to college, what was my father doing? They got a new puppy, a black and white springer spaniel named Darcie. She was allowed on the furniture and treated just like another daughter (sounds familiar). My dad (and my mom) began filling their free time diving deeper into interests: fly fishing, fly tying, piano lessons, piano in a jazz group, traveling abroad, gourmet cooking for two, crossword puzzle solving, writing, wrote a book about his crossword solving passion, movies, reading, and more recently, volunteering his time civically.
Of all the activities my dad pursued since he became an empty nest father, the last one is most intriguing to me. With anonymity and no recognition for his time and dedication over the past year, my dad has served in a vital position of civic duty in his community. It takes a special person to sign on for something very time-consuming and so important in keeping the integrity of our democracy. Who does this? The website I looked at said something like, “Civic-minded citizens that bring with them a broad range of interests, talents and life experiences.” That is my dad. I am so proud to be his daughter.
One other role he has taken on as passionately as fatherhood is as the amazing GrandpaJohn. His grandchildren look to him for sage advice, clever card tricks, detailed stories, and grandfatherly guidance. My dad has been at concerts, football games, graduations, and celebrations for all of his grandkids. My dad is always interested in how each of us is doing. He encourages me to keep writing and will give me positive feedback when I have struck a chord with my words.
On this Father’s Day I am sending my love and appreciation across the country to my father out in California. I love you Dad! Thank you! And to the Papa Bear in the kitchen making us a delicious breakfast for two, Happy Father’s Day to you! Koda, Summer, and Sansa love you, along with Colton, Courtney, Jack and Luke! You make life for me as a grizzlybearma the best!