"When you were a boy what did you give your dad for Father's Day?" my wife asked me.
It caught me off guard. I couldn't remember. I remember our mother made breakfast and dad had to stay in bed until we brought it to him. Mom had a gold cardboard crown she made him wear. It was always a little crooked on his head. We gave him homemade card. I suppose we gave him the usual gifts -- ties, golf tees, and Old Spice aftershave. I know whatever we bought was with the money he gave us.
I thought about this the past few days leading up to Father's Day. What did I give my dad? My thoughts turned into memories.
I remember June days 60 years ago. It was like another age. Summer days were slower then. They were slower and seemed longer mostly because I was a boy and time for me was endless. But they were also slower because the world was not in such a rush then. People didn't get irritated with a computer that takes more than 2.3 seconds to open communications with the world. People couldn't be reached by phone everyplace they went and no one sent text messages about what they had for lunch.
On summer mornings back then our mother got my brother, sister and I out of bed early, fed us and sent us outside to play. We were expected home for lunch and dinner and when the street lights came on our father stuck his head out the backdoor and whistled with a screech that pierced the neighborhood and the mid-evening air. It was time to come home for bed. Play was infinite in those days. Worries ended with hugs. The stars were our dreams.
The best time of day was early evening when our father came home from work. He paced down our sidewalk toward the back kitchen door with the Chicago Daily News tucked under his arm. Our mother could see him approach as she stood at the sink preparing dinner. We were all waiting. "Daddy's home!" she would say. And when daddy came home it was time for the evening fun to begin.
He arrived with rituals. He usually tried and failed to sneak up and surprise our gray Schnauzer named Cinders. But the dog had heard mom say "Daddy's home," and Cinders was always waiting for him at the door, wagging her tail. Dad took off his suit coat, kissed our mother, loosened his tie and sat at his regular place in a booth that wrapped around two sides of our kitchen table. In those days we didn't have air conditioning and the warm evening air and the sounds of the neighborhood slipped through the kitchen windows behind us.
We said grace together, we ate together and the happy conversation stretched well passed the last spoonful of ice cream that wasn't served until my vegetables were gone. Sometimes there was butterscotch topping for the ice cream which made my vegetables go faster.
Dad always arrived home at the same time. You could set your watch by him. He was a very successful businessman with Meyercord, a large decal company in the Chicago area. I don't remember him ever working late and only a couple times each year on Saturday when he would take us to the office with him. The company held his job for him when he went to war and helped him buy our house when he returned.
Dad was always home with us on weekends for Saturday chores and fun, church on Sunday and big family dinners. In the summer he kept golf clubs in the trunk of his car and once in a while if work was slow that's when he and friends from the office played golf – on a weekday. It was a different time when companies were loyal to people and people were loyal to companies. He worked there for 50 years.
Sometimes on summer evenings my sister, brother and I wouldn't wait in the kitchen for our dad to come home. Instead we walked several blocks from our home on Jarvis Avenue to its intersection with Cicero in the Chicago suburb of Skokie.
At the same time every evening our dad's car turned off the busy road and onto Jarvis. We sat on the curb and waited for him, two little boys in crew cuts and their older sister with blonde curls, all wearing shorts, shirts, sneakers and smiles. When dad spotted us his car stopped and we rode the rest of the way home with him -- all of us chattering at once to see who could tell their story first.
Our dad has been gone now 20 years. Our mother died in March. These memories live on.
It's wonderful to be a husband and being a father gives me more joy than I ever imagined. To be a granddad is to have your life fulfilled. But as I think back, I remember it was also great to be a kid so many long years ago.
And sometimes in the quiet of a warm summer evening as the sun drops behind the shady trees I wish I could be a kid again. I wish I could be a kid sitting on the curb at Jarvis and Cicero with my brother and sister waiting for our father to pick us up. I wish I could be a kid again listening to the musical words from our mother's voice -- "daddy's home" -- telling us all was safe, secure, and well.
I do remember what I gave my dad for Father's Day when I was a boy. I gave him memories.
And he gave them back to me. He gave them back to me again and again and again every day of his life.
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