Father's Day Heros
Happy Father’s Day to the dads who are present in their children’s lives. And to those fathers who can’t celebrate this day with their kids because of death, duty, or illness, we honor the importance of your love in our lives.
This poem is for my husband, a wonderful father who worked long hours when our kids were little and would come home many nights and go straight to their rooms to watch them sleep.
Looking at Them Asleep by Sharon Olds
When I come home late at night and go in to kiss the children,
I see my girl with her arm curled around her head,
Her face deep in unconsciousness—so
deeply centered she is in her dark self,
her mouth slightly puffed like one sated but
slightly pouted like one who hasn’t had enough,
her eyes so closed you would think they have rolled the
iris around to face the back of her head,
the eyeball marble-naked under that
thick satisfied desiring lid,
she lies on her back in abandon and sealed completion,
and the son in his room, oh the son he is sideways in his bed,
one knee up as if he is climbing
sharp stairs up into the night,
and under his thin quivering eyelids you
know his eyes are wide open and
staring and glazed, the blue in them so
anxious and crystally in all this darkness, and his
mouth is open, he is breathing hard from the climb
and panting a bit, his brow is crumpled
and pale, his long fingers curved,
his hand open, and in the center of each hand
the dry dirty boyish palm
resting like a cookie, I look at him in his
quest, the thin muscles of his arms
passionate and tense, I look at her with her
face like the face of a snake who has swallowed a deer,
Content, content—and I know if I wake her she’ll
smile and turn her face toward me through
half asleep and open her eyes and I
know if I wake him he’ll jerk and say Don’t and sit
up and stare about him in blue
unrecognition, oh my Lord how I
know these two. When love comes to me and says
What do you know, I say This girl, This boy.
My literary father hero has to be Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird. I don’t remember the first time I watched the movie or when I read the novel (probably in high school), but I do remember a visceral love for the character of Atticus, the small town lawyer hired to defend a black man accused of raping a white woman in late 1950s Alabama.
His quiet fairness and strong moral compass with every character in the book is still the best primer for parenting I’ve ever read. If you believe as a nurturer of children you must lead by example rather than as an expositor of some popular parenting agenda, nothing compares to the character of Atticus Finch. Every maternity wing in every hospital should be handing out a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird to every parent leaving with a new baby. Here are a few gems from Atticus, or rather the author, Harper Lee, channeling Mr. Finch.
“The only thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.”
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.”
“There’s a lot of ugly things in this world, son. I wish I could keep ‘em all away from you. That’s never possible.”
And to my own father who I never got to know . . . but I remember him always wearing a hat.
The Death of the Hat by Billy Collins
Once every man wore a hat.
In the ashen newsreels,
the avenues of cities
are broad rivers flowing with hats.
The ballparks swelled
with thousands of straw hats,
brims and bands,
rows of men smoking
and cheering in shirtsleeves.
Hats were the law.
They went without saying.
You noticed a man without a hat in a crowd.
You bought them from Adams or Dobbs
who branded your initials in gold
on the inside band.
Trolleys crisscrossed the city.
Steamships sailed in and out of the harbor.
Men with hats gathered on the docks.
There was a person to block your hat
and a hatcheck girl to mind it
while you had a drink
or ate a steak with peas and a baked potato.
In your office stood a hat rack.
The day the war was declared
everyone in the street was wearing a hat.
And they were wearing hats
when a ship loaded with men sank in the icy sea.
My father wore one to work every day
and returned home
carrying the evening paper,
the winter chill radiating from his overcoat.
But today we go bareheaded
into the winter streets,
stand hatless on frozen platforms.
Today the mailboxes on the roadside
and the spruce trees behind the house
wear cold white hats of snow.
Mice scurry from the stone walls at night
in their thin fur hats
to eat the birdseed that has spilled.
And now my father, after a life of work,
wears a hat of earth,
and on top of that,
a lighter one of cloud and sky—a hat of wind