Sunday was Father’s Day, and I am one of the fortunate fathers who was able to spend the day with my family. Since my father passed away several years ago, the time with my own children seems even more precious.
This week it has been interesting listening to the different ways that families celebrated Father’s Day this year, while we are still in the throes of the coronavirus pandemic. Like the Mother’s Day holiday we celebrated in May, this was a Father’s Day unlike any other.
But even as the specific ways in which we celebrate what fathers mean to us have been challenged, the things that we truly cherish don’t change.
About a year ago, a woman named Shanieke Pryor posted a short video of her husband, comedian DJ Pryor, having a conversation with their youngest son, Kingston, who was 19 months old at that time. The video of their conversation has been watched by tens of millions of people because it seems to capture the very essence of the relationship between father and child. (You can find it here: https://youtu.be/AY35eXTKVLY)
As the video begins, the two are sitting beside each other on the couch watching TV, and they are talking about the show they have just seen. Kingston, however, is just talking gibberish—but he’s doing it with perfection. His inflections, hand motions, and body language immediately communicate how completely he is engaged in the conversion with his father.
In the first few seconds of the conversation, DJ, the dad, says, “They need to work on that, right?” Kingston’s immediate reply is “Yes!” “Did you understand it, though?” queries his dad. Kingston shakes his head, “No.”
The video is both hilarious and touching, because DJ Pryor obviously takes his role as father very seriously. And for his part, Kingston loves it. You can see him learning about the art of conversation. With every new hopeful question posed to his father, his engagement and confidence deepen.
Fathers are the authors of hope. We hope our questions matter—even if they are gibberish. Fathers affirm that they do. We hope that how we do the things we need to learn will be acceptable. Fathers not only accept it, they run with it. They catch the balls, attend the tea parties, hang out in the shallow end when we are learning to swim, show us how to hold the bowling ball, pin up our drawings, are respectful of our first friendships, laugh at our jokes, and basically convey to us that we are going to make it as humans.
As we mature, the tasks get more complex and so do the responses. If we are fortunate, that quality that fathers provide—believing in us, affirming our efforts, catching the ball and throwing it back—never quits.
Even now, years after my dad’s death, he is an important part of my life because I learned from him that my life was important, that I could work hard and achieve the goals I set for myself, and that I was going to be OK.
Everybody needs someone in their lives who believes in them no matter what. When we get to be that person for someone else—as a father, or uncle, or mentor—it is both exhilarating and humbling. When we experience that kind of love and acceptance, it changes the trajectory of our lives and makes a difference.
This week after Father’s Day, I’ve been taking stock of the people who have been that person for me. And I’m thinking about the opportunities I have to fulfill that role for someone else. Hope, acceptance, support—these are the qualities that anchor our mission and everything else we do.