HELP LINE: Remember to thank fathers, father figures

FIRST THINGS FIRST, right?

Today is Father’s Day.

If that’s something you need to know and had managed to forget, you might want to do whatever you’re going to do right now.

Don’t worry, we’ll be here when you get back.

For the rest of us who apparently don’t need to have the obviously painfully overstated, let’s stagger on.

Many of you might have observed throughout the past 867 weeks (no, I’m not kidding — life is a wondrous place) that I don’t typically take on Father’s Day as a column topic, and I haven’t done that for several very good reasons: a) the culture simply is not as saturated with Father’s Day as it is with Mother’s Day, b) I’m not one and c) I never had one.

Thus I feel a bit under-powered on the subject, but let’s back up.

No, I’ve never been a father, in the literal sense. That’s just the way life worked out.

Have acted as father figure

I’ve been blessed with a couple of opportunities to act like a father figure, but I’ve never been the real deal.

And as I bound about in the ever-expanding playground called Elderhood, I think that’s too bad. So it goes.

I never had a father. Now, obviously there was one on the scene at some point, but no one I ever met.

I was raised by a single mom and two wonderful grandparents.

My grandfather was a sweet, gentle, loving, hard-working guy (a bookkeeper by trade) who did his best to fulfill the role.

I loved him and I learned a lot from him, but he was more comfortable with an adding machine than a baseball or a hammer, so for a little boy growing up in that time, my perspective was somewhat … contained.

Lest this begin to sound like a sad story, it isn’t. And it isn’t because there were several adult males (one in particular) who allowed themselves to become enmeshed in my life.

And that “one in particular,” a high school journalism teacher who grew up to be a congressional senator, took the time out of his life to teach me. He is Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas.

He taught me responsibility.

He was always where he said he’d be when he said he’d be there.

And he always did what he said he’d do when he said he’d do it and the way he said he’d do it.

Admitted mistakes, apologized

And when he failed at that or made a mistake, he called it out for what it was, apologized (if that was necessary) and then set about making it right.

He expected the same from me, so he usually got it, but sometimes, I’d blow something off and when I did, I heard about it.

He was never violent and never demeaning, but I knew when he was hot.

And he was pretty clear about why he was hot and what I needed to do (or fix, or apologize for, or …) to make things right.

And as soon as I did what I needed to do, the honest anger was gone and all was well.

He taught me wit and humor. He was quick.

And he believed that a lot of life’s grief could be prevented with a little humor and a smile, but it was never sarcastic and it was never biting. And he was his own best source of material.

He taught me “Yes, I could.”

I could do pretty much anything I set my mind to doing, that I was competent and capable and that “honest ignorance” was no defect — learn what you need to learn in order to do what you want to do and be who you want to be.

He did.

He taught me to be a chameleon, although I don’t think he ever used that word.

He believed in adapting to his environment and to the people he was around in order to be a part of what was going on.

He wasn’t two-faced and his values and beliefs never changed, but his style was fluid.

He welcomed people from all perspectives and simply allowed himself to adapt. And folks sensed that. He was no phony.

He helped me to learn that masculinity and macho are not the same thing.

That respect and simple human courtesy never made anyone less; it made them more.

And he walked his talk.

He always had the time for me because he made the time for me.

I know now that I didn’t appreciate how much of his time I probably structured, but I probably didn’t get it because he didn’t want me to get it.

Sure, sometimes he’d have to put me off for a little bit, but he always came back around to what he said he’d do when he said he’d do it.

Sometimes, he had answers; sometimes, he didn’t.

Honest about knowledge

He was honest about both.

And he was honest about his feelings.

I saw him cry, just like I saw him laugh. I don’t remember anything called shame.

I wanted to grow up to be him. He wanted me to grow up to be me.

He won.

And his face, his voice and his wry smile are as clear to me now as they were 50 years ago.

Fifty years.

I knew him as “Pat” when we weren’t someplace where that would be disrespectful.

And we both knew where those places were because we went there together.

Pat, 50 years ago, I hope I remembered to say, “Thank you.”

And 50 years later, I’d still like to grow up to be more like you.

Happy Father’s Day.

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Mark Harvey is director of Clallam/Jefferson Senior Information & Assistance, which operates through the Olympic Area Agency on Aging. He is also a member of the Community Advocates for Rural Elders partnership. He can be reached at 360-452-3221 (Port Angeles-Sequim), 360-385-2552 (Jefferson County) or 360-374-9496 (West End), or by emailing harvemb@dshs.wa.gov.