Sunday, June 16, 2013

A tribute to fathers

I first published the following essay in the Fathers Day 2005 edition of the Appleton Post-Crescent the summer between my junior and senior year of college. Laura and I visited my parents that weekend, and I got up early so that I wouldn't miss seeing my dad grab the paper and a cup of coffee and head out to the deck to enjoy a beautiful June morning. He didn't know the article would be there so seeing him stumble upon it is a moment I continue to treasure. I hope he does too.

The words are now eight years old, and I've got a six-year-old and eight-month old of my own. But the sentiments remain as true as ever, and my admiration for my dad has only grown.


My dad, me, my son Peter and my grandfather


It's past time to recognize great dads
Steve Karlen
The Appleton Post-Crescent
June 19, 2005

In early April, my fiancee and I took a break from our studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to visit my family back in Greenville for a weekend.

During our time off, I persuaded my parents to join us in watching one of my favorite movies, Field of Dreams, which I watch at the beginning of each baseball season.

Halfway through the movie, I realized my parents probably had no idea why I wanted to watch this movie with them. With a less-than-spectacular performance by Kevin Costner and a plot that frequently bordered on ridiculous, their confusion was probably justified. However corny they may have found the movie to be, I wanted them, especially my dad, to see its incredible ending.

If you've seen Field of Dreams, you probably remember the final scene where Ray Kinsella (played by Costner) gets the opportunity to play catch with the ghost of his father. This simple game of catch washes away years of bitterness, heartache and estrangement between father and son.

The final scene always makes me contemplate the bond that a game of catch creates between fathers and their sons and takes me back 12 years to the summer of 1993. Easily the worst player on my Little League team, I wanted nothing more than to learn how to throw, catch and hit a baseball. My dad recognized this and, despite having little baseball knowledge, spent countless hours practicing with me in the backyard.

Our time practicing developed my skills, allowing me to play on several traveling teams over the next few years. Though I never made it to the majors, my dad's efforts made it possible for me to make friends and memories on the baseball field--friends and memories that I hold dear to this day.

However, of all the games, practices and road trips, the memories I cherish most are of playing catch with my dad in the backyard.

Fathers everywhere thanklessly give their time, energy and love, glorying in their children's every triumph and suffering in their every disappointment. Dads find meaningful ways to bond with their children. In my case, it was baseball. For others, it's Boy Scouts, music, traveling or countless other shared activities.

Still, our society is reluctant to acknowledge fathers' contributions to their children's lives. Apparently, great fathers don't translate into great news stories. The few fathers who do make headlines tend to be the abusive or delinquent ones.

Even our popular culture gives little credit to fathers. Television ads market products capable of dealing with hapless fathers' inability to manage their own lives, much less their families'. Sitcom dads like Homer Simpson merely reinforce this stereotype. And while everybody may love Raymond, his character has served to portray fathers as incompetent.

There are many examples of the bumbling dad stereotype. Few intentionally demean fathers, but the real-world impact is that dads simply aren't recognized anymore.

However, even in a society that tells us fathers are no longer essential to healthy families, all is not lost. There's no better day than Father's Day to begin appreciating all that dads do to enrich our lives.

Such appreciated need not come in the form of a mass-produced card. It might not even come with words. True appreciation might be as simple as a day at the beach or an afternoon of fishing together. Or sharing a game of catch.

True appreciation is whatever leads you to realize that your personal field of dreams just might be your own backyard.

Love, appreciation, and recognition of fathers' love and sacrifice can come in any number of ways. I'll be getting married in a year. Somewhere down the line, my fiancée and I plan to have a family of our own. And when that day comes, my greatest aspiration is to be half the dad my father is.

Thanks, Dad. And to all fathers, have a happy Father's Day.

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