THOSE OF YOU who have followed the Family Man saga will recall that my wife, LaVeta, recently asked me what I wanted for Father's Day. I told her I wanted to go to Atlantic City with the family. She said OK, and I began to fantasize.
I thought of Shore trips with my parents when I was a kid. I thought of watching Mr. Peanut walk up and down the boardwalk in a top hat and a monocle. I thought of eating gooey, flavorless, saltwater taffy while seagulls dive-bombed us like fighter jets. I thought of pizza and hot dogs and funnel cake. I thought of what it might be like to have someone else pay for it all.
Father's Day, you see, is a double-edged sword. It is a day when fathers are recognized for encouraging, empowering, providing and protecting. Unfortunately, it is also a day when many dads tend to get the shaft.
Father's Day is nothing like its counterpart, Mother's Day. If you ignore Father's Day, you live to tell about it. If you do the same on Mother's Day, you do so at your own peril.
On Mother's Day, every thug, hoodlum, ne'er-do-well and loser is lined up right alongside the good kids, preparing to buy flowers for their mommy. Hustlers sell humongous teddy bears at every intersection. Card-store owners salivate in anticipation of the bounty. Flower pushers sell enough roses to send their kids to college.
Mother's Day, my friends, is the ultimate parenting party, and nearly everyone participates in the festivities. Those who don't must face something far more dangerous than anything known to man. They must face their mothers' wrath.
This means enduring The Look: the death stare that every mother gives her children when they have done the ultimate wrong. Perhaps if that was the only consequence, people would be willing to deal with it, but the look is only the beginning.
For one full year, the offending child is forced to endure guilt storms. These are the equivalent of emotional waterboarding. Just when you think you're about to die, your mother stops long enough to allow you to catch your breath. Then she straps you down with a reminder of your transgression, pours on everything she's ever done for you, and watches with a self-satisfied glare as you drown in a sea of your own hurt.
In some countries, this is defined as torture, but in America it's a way of life. That's why nobody is ever caught flat-footed on Mother's Day. Even the most trifling among us sock away a few bucks to get something for mom.
Dads, unfortunately, do not have guilt in our arsenal of emotional weaponry, so our families don't fear missing Father's Day. That's why we get so many collect calls.
Now, I must admit that LaVeta went out and got me a nice cologne set this Father's Day. She even paid for it with her own money, which was a plus. The kids, however, did not have any money this Father's Day, despite that fact that they seem to always have money for the ice cream truck.
They know what I like. Getting it would have been easy. They could've saved up their allowance and bought me a cheesesteak and fries. They could've raided their piggy banks and purchased a Philadelphia Eagles T-shirt. They could've gotten money from LaVeta and bought me a Starbucks gift card. Alas, they did none of those things. But what they did do was a whole lot better than anything they could give me from a store.
My daughter, Eve, and my son, Solomon, gave me a card that said a good father needs courage, heart and wisdom. They believe I have all three.
In truth, that probably would've been enough to make Father's Day a success. But Eve followed up with a giant card that contained a handwritten message:
"Just wanted to say 'Happy Father's Day' for everything you do for us. You always say you are proud of us but you never hear it back. I'm proud of you for everything you do. Hope you enjoy your special day. Love, Eve."
There's something about your children looking up to you that makes you feel 10 feet tall. It makes you walk a little straighter and work a little harder. It makes you act a little better and do a little more.
It makes you a father, and I can't think of a better gift than that.