Happy Father’s Day, they are not just words

This Sunday will be my first Father’s Day as a dad. Now, thanks to J.D. Yarmuth, I understand why it’s so important to so many — especially my dad — and why the one I screwed up was so painful. 

Twenty or so years ago I was playing in a junior golf tournament. The final round of the tournament fell on Father’s Day, and my dad was caddying for me. I don’t remember how I played or how I finished in the event, but I remember it was the first time I learned how important Father’s Day is to my dad. 

I didn’t have a gift for him, but my plan always was to wish my dad a happy Father’s Day. I just figured I would wait for the right moment. 

Maybe the first tee — a good emotional lift for us both as we got the round going. No, I need to focus on this opening tee shot. 

OK, after the round. We’ll shake our opponents’ hands and then, when we hug it out as we do after every round, I’ll tell him “Happy Father’s Day”… perfect timing. Well, the others in our group ruined the moment by carrying on conversation, or maybe a missed a short putt and wasn’t in the mood, or something else happened that spoiled the moment.

I’ll just tell him “Happy Father’s Day” after dinner… No, I’ll say it when we get home. 

For one reason or another, the perfect moment never came. As I recall, other people — the other dad-caddies in particular — wished him happy Fathers’ Day. Ultimately, I figured I’d just get him next year. After all, it was still a good day, and it didn’t go totally unrecognized.

But, as I was about go to bed, he walked up the stairs to my bedroom. I don’t remember exactly what was said — I’m fairly certain it was some version of, “Everyone has birthdays, but not everyone becomes a father.” 

He has never asked for anything. If possible, he’d like to play golf or just spend time together. But, the only thing he has ever truly wanted has been for me to wish him, “Happy Father’s Day.” 

I remember how hurt he was when Father’s Day went unacknowledged… by me… the only person he needed to hear it from.

Now I get it. 

When J.D. was born, I was almost exactly the same age as my dad was when I was born. (JD was born about 10 weeks shy of my 36th birthday, and I was born about three weeks ahead of my dad’s 36th birthday.) Imagining my dad experiencing many of the same things I’ve experienced  over the last 10 months, at the same point in our lives, has provided an unexpected source of comfort. 

I have adored J.D. since the moment he was born. My fears about the future are amplified because of him, just as my hopes and ambitions are now for making his life better. 

There is comfort knowing these are the same emotions that pushed and pulled my dad 35 years ago. And, because our sons are the centers of our worlds, we wouldn’t trade that burden for anything. 

Father’s Day is just an opportunity, once a year, to acknowledge how much you appreciate dad. 

In J.D.’s case, that’s not going to mean much. I won’t expect to hear “Happy Father’s Day” this Sunday — he can only speaking the language of the “Despicable Me” Minions. I just hope he gives me a good laughing fit.

For my dad, I just look forward to telling him Happy Father’s Day.