Father’s Day

Happy Father's Day to all of you who are fathers. May your children bring you happiness, joy, and the occasional tie or pair of socks.

Those of you who have fathers, I hope you'll wish them a happy Father's Day, and ideally even engage with them more, have a real conversation with them. Though I know that may not be possible for some, and may not be easy for others. But for those of you who have unfinished or unresolved business with your fathers, I urge you to consider working on ways to reach a more resolved state. You never know whether any given day might be your last chance.

That's probably useless advice. If someone had given it to me four months ago, I would have ignored it. And resolution is rarely easy, and often impossible, and probably can't be achieved unilaterally anyway. But the suggestion's there, for what it's worth.

As I was thinking about writing this entry, a Libby Roderick song came up on the iTunes rotation: "Holy Thing to Love." Turns out, as far as I can tell, it's based on something by Rabbi (?) Chaim Stern:

It is a fearful thing to love what death can touch.

A fearful thing to love, hope, dream: to be—

To be, and oh! to lose.

A thing for fools, this, a holy thing,

A holy thing to love.

For your life has lived in me,

Your laugh once lifted me,

Your word was gift to me.

To remember this brings painful joy.

'Tis a human thing, love, a holy thing,

To love what death has touched.

(Not at all sure of the line breaks and various other details there; there are several versions of this on the web, which is the only place I've seen it.)

The Libby Roderick song adapts the above, and adds more verses, including this:

Have you seen how the world moves on?

Every hand we touch will go

Every face we cherish will disappear

Taking everything that we used to know

But somewhere deep inside our bones

We must be tied to the morning star

For knowing that our hearts will break

We love each other all the more

Somehow that song in this context made me think of Fred Small's "Father's Song" (lyrics). Here's the chorus (though as with most songs, I imagine it doesn't work as well without the music):

There's a man I hardly remember

Who would hold me in his arms without flinching

And tell me it's all right

I put my hands out to my father

Standing strong in the water

When I could not swim

I held on to him

It was all right.

I was talking with Kendra the other week about how parents shape us, shape our lives and personalities and hopes and fears. A great deal of who I am, I can trace to my father and mother. I think they were both freelance editors at various points; they instilled in me a love of language and a tendency toward use of reference materials. And Peter also led to me to math, to computers, to science fiction. My earliest reading of books meant for grownups was from his large science fiction collection. His reading tastes and mine later diverged—in recent years he was more interested in mysteries than sf, I think, and the sf he read was often not so much to my taste (and vice versa). But I got my start with his pulp paperbacks (he later gave me his copy of the 1975 reissue of Healy & McComas's thousand-page 1946 anthology Adventures in Time and Space) and his Delany and Le Guin.

There were other things he shaped about me as well, some positive and some less so. And I don't want everything I write about him to be a paean (Jed pauses to check MW11 to make sure that word means what he thinks it means); like all of us, he had flaws, and those were part of who he was, and they contributed toward shaping who I am (and to my own flaws). But I think that's a topic for another day.

For now, I'll close with what I so rarely managed to say to him in life: I love you, Peter, and thank you for everything.

I invite y'all readers to post about your parents, especially your fathers. In particular, I'm interested in hearing the things about your parents that did or didn't help you become who you are today. Are you growing more like your parents over time? Less? What are you grateful to them for? What would you like to say to them that you haven't yet said? Feel free to post anonymously if you like.

And if you are a parent, or hope to be, what would you like to pass along to your children? What would you want your kids to say in response to some of the above questions, twenty or thirty or forty years from now?

8 Responses to “Father’s Day”

  1. fran

    My little one was made a cd of “music her parents like too” and as I was warbling along with the Beach Boys’ “Surfin’ USA”, my dad came to mind. To my childhood embarassment, he adored the Beach Boys. Six years gone after a long battle with cancer, I hear him still, especially as I become a parent. The things he used to say, especially “It’s a long way from your heart” for the cuts and bruises I got as a kid, come to my lips as I dust my little one off. I know that there are more substantial things that I got from my dad, but these are the inconsequential that have become consequential. And a small reminder of how deeply I carry him with me. Thanks for your openness about your dad, Jed.

  2. Colin


    First off, I know this first father’s day without your dad must be hard, so I’ll pass on a smile and thoughts to you.

    I think one of the greatest things my father has taught me to date is morals and ethics.

    About 25 years ago my father was selling a used car, a 1968 Volvo 144 (think green turtle looking Volvo.) The car was running and ugly, so he priced it at $200 and put an ad in the Palo Alto times.

    Whether he knew it or not, the car was worth mch more in parts value than it was as a car. In the first day he got some 30 + phone calls on the car.

    The first people to respond were a pair of Stanford students and he arranged to have them look at the car that evening.

    As they were standing on our front lawn deciding whether or not to buy the car, another man drove up, clearly very inebriated, and offered my dad $300 for the car right then and there.

    Instead of taking the offer, my dad let the man know that the students were there first and they had the right to buy the car first.

    Naturally, the students bought the car, then immediately sold it to the other man in front of my father for the 50% profit.

    The funny thing is, I didn’t even have to ask my dad why he did it. He knew what was going to happen, but chose to honor the students’ right to first refusal.

    That incident still sits in my mind and I try and apply it to my own life as best I can as well.

  3. Jay

    Having had the same father and mother as Jed, I echo Jed’s comments on Father’s day.

    I had a lot of time to reflect today on my first Father’s day with no father, as I flew back from NYC to LA. (and btw, as Joan Didion so aptly wrote, NYC is, in fact, the nexus of all love, money and power.)

    “Free to Be You and Me” neatly sums up so much about Peter and Marcy’s philosophy on raising Jed and me.

    And as I mentioned in my eulogy, my favorite lesson I learned from Peter is the importance of telling your kids that you’re proud of them. Some people, sadly, wait a lifetime and never get to hear those words. But Peter frequently told me that Jed and I were his two biggest accomplishments; I never had to wonder if he was proud of us. I only hope that I someday will be able to say the same thing, and mean it, to little Interferon.

  4. Debbie Notkin

    My dad was one of the world’s sweetest and most loving human beings. He passed on to me his love for books and words, his ability to tell a good joke, his fondness for good food, good company, and ideas. Much more important, he raised me with complete confidence that I was first, loved and lovable, and second, capable of doing anything I set my hand to.

    And he was by no means a saint: he was passive, no good at taking care of or protecting himself (or his kids), prey to the winds that blow our lives around. He wasn’t good at deciding when to stay in a bad situation and when to leave one. I think he made bad choices in all three of his marriages: he was too weak for my wonderful mother, too obsessed with the woman he left her for, and too willing to compromise on a third late-life marriage.

    (“How many fifth anniversaries does a guy have?” “Dad,” responded my brother, “this is your third.”)

    I never grieved his death intensely and I’ve never missed him very painfully, but I never hear a good joke or a well-told story without thinking lovingly of him.

  5. Thida

    Hugs to you on your first Fathers Day with no father!

    My father gave me vivid memories of his own childhood. He shared his sense of childlike wonder and shows me how to keep that wonder into adulthood. He still yells with excitement. He still enjoys a slow walk with Kerensa to examine the rocks in someone’s garden. He took me to the slums of Calcutta and many museums. He explained to me the mythology depicted in art. He always listens intently to me and asks lots of questions. Even the smallest things I do interest him. At my best, I listen to people like him. He’s willing to try almost anything once, which has led to lots of interesting adventures. He’s both an inspiration and a cautionary tale.

  6. metasilk


    My dad taught me how to make creamed eggs on toast, not to smoke pot, to come up with a reasonable argument instead of whining to justify going to get chocolate chip cookies, to see whales in rocks, that being broke was worth being in business for yourself, and that small environmental groups could fight big companies, and win.

    It’s wonderful to watch my husband growing into fatherhood, too. I wonder what our son will someday write about him?

    Jed, thank you for the encouragement here. I hope I make the time to write more about this in my journal, even as it gets farther from Father’s day.

  7. Lola

    From my childhood, love was the biggest thing I got from my dad that shaped who I am. Even when he was drunk, hungover, in a rage, or otherwise being a total ass, I always knew he loved me and was proud of me.

    He taught me that family is more important than money.

    From him I learned to love the blues, and Glenn Gould’s 1951(?) recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations. From myself and my mom, I learned to like all the kinds of music I like, whether or not he thought they were good. That was hard, and I’m still working on it.

    My dad always encouraged my creativity, and taught me to see minute variations of color and shape in everyday life, to see beauty in the world around me. He always found something interesting in my artwork and my writing, and told me what he saw.

    He taught me how to give great foot rubs, and back rubs too.

    Because of my parents, I spent two years in therapy and six years with the wrong guy, but because of my family, including my parents, I had the support I needed to leave the marriage.

    My dad showed me by example how to write a great crank letter. He also supported and shared my love of words and language; I get my love of weird turns-of-phrase and poor translations from him. He played word games with me often — I think pretty much whenever I wanted.

    My dad spent hours and hours, for weeks on end, three years in a row, drilling me at my request for the school and county spelling bees (first place at school, every year, third place in the county, once? twice?).

    He also got me my own phone line for my 16th birthday (I think this was more to save the family sanity than for me, but at the time, it seemed like a dream come true to a very talkative 16 year old). When one of my first boyfriends (a pathological liar) racked up $400 worth of calls on my calling card after leaving the state, my dad called the phone company and got it straightened out.

    In my adult life, I think the things my dad did that most affected who I am were 1) staying friends with my mom after she left him and 2) getting therapy, quitting drinking, getting more therapy, and growing up. I have always loved my dad, and sometimes admired him, but I haven’t always respected him. And I am deeply, deeply grateful that he has become a person that I can have such a wonderful, honest, loving, communicative, contactful relationship with as an adult. I love you, Pop.

    Thank you, Jed, for asking questions like this. And **long hugs** for everything else.


  8. koshkalet

    Along with everyone else, I am also giving you big, big hugs.

    Jed, your advice did not go unheeded – I called my Father this Father’s day. I even sent him a present of ScharffenBerger chocolates (which he *loved*). These are things that, most years, I don’t do.

    Last year I really broke the pattern and wrote him a long letter answering the very question that you have asked, Jed. I told him some of what was going on in my life and how all of those things tied in to some of the lessons he taught me. I’ll just mention one of the topics I included in that letter to him last year…

    My father taught me to constantly seek out information, to try to figure things out, to wonder about things. As a kid I was completely resistant to it when he would tell me over and over and over that I had to ask “who what where when why and how.” However, from his attitude about learning and questioning, I do have an intense curiosity about the world, and I really love that.

    This would also be a character trait I value in my friends, and particularly in you, Jed.


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