John Gfroerer: Dad’s day of thanks

  • John Gfroerer poses with his daughter, Brinkley, at the Lantos Human Rights Award event in Washington, D.C., in February. Courtesy of Babette Rittmeyer

For the Monitor
Sunday, June 18, 2017

Fathers Day is generally recognized as a day for children to honor their dads. And as a dad, I kind of enjoy that. But I have long thought that it is also a day for dads to be thankful for the reasons they are dads.

I have been blessed with two wonderful daughters. They came along at different times in my life, one by nature, the other by adoption. Each, in her own way, contributed to the person I have become. They continue to shape me in ways unexpected, maybe at times even unwanted, but I take their influence freely and with full embrace.

From my perspective, the Dad part was easy. Love is the basic ingredient, pure and simple. From there everything else just kind of falls into place.

Now, as the youngest, Brinkley, graduates from Concord High School, I am confronted once again with another part of the equation – letting go.

Yeah, sure, I know that stuff about how she will always be in my heart. But for 13 years I have started nearly every workday by driving her to school. To suggest that I won’t miss that is just not reality. Having her in my heart is great, but it is even greater when she is sitting next to me going down the road.

Repeat after me, “Letting go is part of parenting. Letting go is part of parenting.”

I remember our stay at Chautauqua in Western New York the summer when Brinkley was 6 years old. One day after lunch she wanted me to watch as she glided on her scooter down the short hill next to The Gleason, where we stay. She was heading off for the afternoon session at the Girls Club, about half a mile away along the lake shore. Though she wanted me to watch, she was also clear: I was not to follow.

Usually she would go with a friend or one of her parents would walk with her. That afternoon was the first time she wanted to go on her own. It was a moment of independence being seized, and I gave it up to her without a fight. She pushed off and picked up speed heading down the hill. Effortlessly and full of confidence she rolled away from me. As I watched I remember thinking that someday it will be a bicycle, a car, a boyfriend, a college, a husband, a child of her own. But at that moment it was just a pair three-inch rubber wheels on a metal frame with handlebars that I knew would return her in two hours.

She stopped where the road leveled out and turned to make sure I had seen her mastery of the scooter and the hill. There were no words, but we both knew what was being said, “Remember, remember Dad, last year I couldn’t even ride this scooter.” With a wave and a wave back from me, she turned and pushed off to the Girls Club. Even from the back I could see the smile on her face and the confidence in her eyes lighting the way forward in the sunshine as she went.

She was loving life. If there was one role for me, Dad, it was to do all I could to make sure she would always love life.

As years have clicked forward she has started moving through my list. The next summer she was riding her bicycle to the club. Now she drives the car to get places. The boyfriend thing hasn’t really taken off yet. But in August she is headed off to college.

I would never want to stop the clock of life. But I could live a little longer in any of the moments along the way that I was a dad. I could savor them like a week at Chautauqua. There would be full knowledge that change will happen. The week will come to an end. Routines will evolve. Daughters move forward like a scooter down a hill headed to college. Wind on their face, hair flowing out behind, body tall with confidence and a smooth road underneath the wheels.

That I, the Dad, could be part of her smooth road is my richness. It is basic to the job. It is what love can be. It is what love can do.

Like some guy laying down his coat so the lady can walk over a puddle. It is so easy. It just takes being there at the right time and doing what is obvious. And giving a lower priority to the cleanup job that may need to follow.

You pick up the girl, hold her tight, give her all the confidence you know. You hope that when she leaves, some of that confidence stays with her. But while she is still around, or when she comes back for a visit, enjoy and sparkle happiness like a good dad should.

That is what I celebrate every Fathers Day.

(John Gfroerer of Concord owns a video production company based at the Capitol Center for the Arts.)