No Father’s Day is complete without at least one of the following: A #1 Dad mug, a new tie, shirt or barbecue apron, a silly card about Dad’s underwear or bathing habits and anything made of construction paper, Elmer’s glue and uncooked macaroni.
To this I would add, a trip to the hardware store.
A few years ago for Father’s Day, I made a pilgrimage to the hardware store, intent on buying a self-standing hammock. With visions of wasting my much-deserved day cradled in blissful repose, I would warmly reflect upon my father, my children and my own accomplishments as a dad. All while listening to Vin Scully on the radio.
At home, I assembled the stand, slung the hammock across it and looked for just the right place to plant myself. The problem, I soon found, was that there was no shade in the backyard.
Ever inventive, I grabbed some fiberglass paneling from the scrap pile, a few fallen palm fronds, a broken ladder, two golf clubs, several yards of speaker wire and a retired lawn gnome, and set to building an elaborate structure to hover over the hammock shielding me from the sun’s lethal rays.
But I gave little thought to gravity, physics and my general lack of construction skills.
Once built, I stood back to proudly admire my ragtag apparatus.
But as soon as I eased into the hammock under it, the entire thing collapsed upon me. Undaunted, I tried again and again. With every revised structure the same thing happened: complete destruction and no shade. I could hear that gnome chuckling.
My frustration grew, as did my anger at the world for denying me my day of perfect peace. I was blind to everything but making that moment live up to my wish.
I think about that hammock every Father’s Day. It reminds me of something important: my limitations, failures and inability to live up to the often inflated and inaccurate view I have of the world.
I have a vision of the world that I believe is right and correct. If everything and everyone fell in line with me, all would be ideal.
That hammock isn’t the only thing I enforce this illusion upon. I do it to my car, household appliances, exercise and office equipment. I do it to furniture, my lawn, garage, computer and home. I do it with the weather, the news, stoplights, Disneyland and the Dodgers.
But mostly, I do it to people.
I want my children to be good, courageous, healthy, confident and successful in anything they choose. So every day with them becomes a life lesson to be learned and cataloged. They’re young, so I have greater influence upon them. But I know a time is coming when I won’t, and this scares me. Even now I can see the structure cave in when I try to make them live into my desires.
I think I know what’s best for people on TV, people walking down the street, friends, strangers, my wife. I’m not allowed in the kitchen anymore while she’s cooking. I’m even trying to tell you how to live your life. Luckily, only six people read this column and five of those are relatives so they know not to pay attention to anything I say.
I’ve been trying to build a perfect shade structure over everything I love. The problem is, I’m imperfect.
Luckily, so are you.
Though we so desperately want to protect those we love from the elements, bullies on the playground, making the same mistakes we did and harmful UV rays, we cannot. Not entirely anyway. But in moments when we allow ourselves to be a little vulnerable, we can find something we never expected.
Maybe you have a great relationship with your father — or don’t. Maybe he was always there for you — or wasn’t. Ask yourself, am I putting my wishful images upon him?
Despite his failings, tell him again that you love him. He probably loves you despite yours. If he let you down, forgive him. He probably let himself down even more.
I try to be there for my kids, to guide, shape and shade them. But I don’t always live up to my own expectations. My father wasn’t always there for me. I know plenty of people whose father was, and they’re no better off than I am.
Yet, I can recount every moment in the shade we shared together, every fish caught, every long, silent country road, every sunset. And those are just as valuable to me as a thousand trips to the park after school.
After battling unsuccessfully for three hours to put shade over my hammock, I gave up. I walked away in frustration and sat down staring at my unfulfilled vision. That’s when I noticed the enormous palm tree in the backyard.
It was always there, but it was one of those palm trees that climbs so high into the sky you never really pay attention to the top.
At this time of day, the sun was directly overhead, and the tree cast a perfect, hammock-sized shadow upon the ground right in front of me.
Rather than changing the world and people around us, sometimes we need to change ourselves and the way we view them. When we do that, we’ll find that the world gets a lot shadier.