One of my strongest memories with my Dad when I was little has to do with pancakes. Yup, pancakes. He had a system for making the best pancakes, and taught me all his secrets as I watched, rapt in the magic of perfect-pancake-making. First: Heat the pan with butter, but the dial on the stove must be medium-high. Even more specifically, between the N and the T of FRONT on the front-right burner. Once the butter is melty and bubbly, pour in about 1/4 cup of batter (thinner batter with extra milk, we liked our pancakes crepe-y). DO NOT TOUCH the pancake until the edges are dry and a different texture than the middle, and the bubbles are popping in the center. Then, flip once. Way less time on the second side than the first, just enough to set it, and then remove. If you want to, freeform the pancake into unusual shapes, like a stegasaurus, or Mickey Mouse. This was before you could buy all those fancy pancake molds to have pancakes shaped perfectly like cars. These pancakes were works of art. They were also completely delicious, with a crispy crust around the edges and melty smooth, fluffy middles.
There was nothing super special about the pancakes themselves--they were your run-of-the-mill Bisquick mix, with that extra milk to make them thinner. But the way they were made--carefully, methodically, artistically--that was special and I remember it perfectly, probably 30 years later.
My Dad lived with us until I was about 14, end of 8th grade, and then my parents got a divorce. Even when he lived with us he traveled a lot for work--he was on location for months at a time (once nearly 8) because he is a prosthetic make-up artist. So when he left, he left for L.A. Which is way across the country (Captain Obvious's geography lesson for you...). The time we had when he was at home was special, for the most part--pancake mornings; Sundays of listening to classical music and film scores in the living room, being grilled on who the composer was and what the piece was (between this and attending my Mom's Bachelor of Music classes as a child, it's no wonder I aced Music History in college); watching King Kong, the Wizard of Oz, and The Birds (at 4! Thanks, Dad, for giving me a terrifying fear of flocks of birds...); going on weekend hikes with our whole family spending quality time in the woods; sneaking down the stairs to watch him at work in his basement laboratory (I really did have monsters in my basement...); having backyard barbeques where a hot dog was badly charred and Dad ran inside with it to make a cast because it would make really good skin for some monster or another, a particularly memorable party with other nerdy makeup artists where they all got tipsy and decided to watch Dragonslayer with lighters in hand so they could light farts every time the dragon appeared on the TV set (at least I assume they were tipsy, I can't imagine doing that sober--but then again, special effects makeup artists are an interesting breed of people)... The lists go on and on. It was a typical childhood in some ways, and in others...not. I got to go on set when we visited him. I met Mr. Rogers. Bernadette Peters was in my basement. It wasn't all rosy, but the parts I remember best were. And then, those times were stretched out and condensed all at the same time. My time with my Dad was limited to 2 weeks out of the year--many of the activities remained the same but squeezed into a shorter time. It was hard. It's still hard--I live in Rochester, NY and my Dad still lives in L.A. I haven't seen him in 4 years, and haven't spent a week with him since 2007 when I took Bryce out to meet him. It makes Father's Day hard, because so many of the cards assume day-to-day contact, or a childhood where Dad was an integral part of the picture. He was there for the most part until about 14, and then for those teen years, when a girl really needs her Dad, there's a lot of blank space. Father's Day cards are hard, not because I don't have a good relationship with my father (we talk frequently and get along great), but because there is just so much absence. But, the parts where there was a presence were formative and memorable. My Dad got me. It just sucked that that in-person time was so very limited. That was how the cookie crumbled, and I treasured those snatches of quality time. I still treasure them when the stars align and we can get together as adults.
I am lucky, because in addition to my very eccentric, very supportive and loving father, I have a stepfather, as well. Both my Dad and my Mom remarried in the same year, when I was 16. Because THAT was all very easy to adjust to. My mother married a man named Rob, whose family apparently had bets on how long he would last coming into a household with two teenage girls. That can't have been easy. I was pretty angry about just about everything that had transpired over the past two years in general, and did not want to like him. But how can you not love Rob? He joined our family and quickly became a part of it. Not a replacement Dad, but an excellent friend and father figure. He was funny. He was wacky (we have a lot of pictures of Rob with things in his nose--from crazy straws to lobster picks). He was pretty laid-back. He is still funny, and wacky, and very supportive, and an awesome part of our family. My Mom and Rob have been married for over 20 years now, and they are very happy together. Not something I could have said about my parents' marriage. Rob is an excellent husband. He's an awesome stepfather, and friend. That was quite the minefield he walked into, but he handled it well. And he's still here to tell the tale! (That tale as well as a plethora of hilarious and highly disturbing stories from his early work in animal health; his adventures with his group of friends in high school, the Flying Zucchinis, and his solo cross-country bike trip that he did to raise money for the National Lung Association...)
So Father's Day card shopping is doubly hard, because I have to find a card that fits the relationship I have with my Dad despite the miles that separate us and long periods of time when I don't and haven't seen him, AND find a card for Rob that shows my appreciation for everything he's done for me and our family and captures that relationship, which is not exactly father-daughter but something different, and equally good. And then there's the sad fact that I really want to give them cards with "grandpa" in them, because I think they are both going to make terrific grandfathers. How lucky my FutureBaby is, to have not two but FOUR grandfathers! (Bryce also has a fabulous Dad and a terrific stepfather.) I am sad that I haven't been able to do that yet.
I am sad that I have to breeze over the Father's Day cards for your husband, or the Expectant Father cards. I am sad that this day is a sad day for the Dads out there who are fathers in spirit but not quite there yet in physicality. I am sad that there isn't quite as much sensitivity to the fact that guys might have a hard time on a Father's Day with no baby, just as I have a hard time with Mother's Day. Bryce told me the other day, "Well, it's different. I'm supposed to just get over it. It's not a big deal, it's stupid if I take time for me on Father's Day." Well, I think it IS a big deal. Bryce mourns all of our losses and disappointments right there with me, because they are not MY losses and MY cycles, but OURS. Just because he doesn't physically go through the pain of miscarriage or needles or the guilt of feeling that you've failed in providing a good home for your embryos, doesn't mean that he's not hurting emotionally at not being able to make that experience work, either and watching me go through all the physical pieces. That can't be easy, to watch the woman you love experience all this pain and feel like you have to be strong for her so much so that you push your own pain aside. It's our pain. And now, for a period in our cycle, Bryce is the most important player. He is providing half the genetic material where I cannot. He is the star of the show (until I get those embryos back in the landing pad...I'm such a diva). He always downplays his role in all this, because let's face it--biologically, fathers have one thing that they need to do to make a baby happen. But DADS, Dads stick around and support the pregnant wife/partner and raise those beautiful babies in partnership. Bryce is going to be a kickass Dad. Bryce will have his own rituals with our children, his own love of cheesy B-movies and the woods of Maine and woodworking (maybe not the wine so much at first...) to share with our children. He will create new experiences for our kids and be there for them, because he doesn't have a really cool job with really shitty side effects on family. He will be the giver of hugs, the killer of spiders (sorry, honey, just can't do it), the co-conspirator on wacky science projects. He will introduce our kids to geocaching. He will encourage them in whatever they want to do, secretly crossing his fingers that his genes will dominate and we won't have highly athletic children. Holy moly, we will both have a lot of adjusting to do if our kids aren't nerdy band-camp bookworms like us.
So, Happy Father's Day--to all the Fathers out there. The Dads who wanted to be there but couldn't and made every meager minute count exponentially, the Stepfathers who had to carve a special place in the family for themselves and succeeded in creating relationships of mutual respect and friendship, the husbands who aren't quite fathers yet but desperately long to be and feel muffled and unable to express this deep pain for fear of not being that pillar of strength--the husbands who one day will make the BEST fathers ever, recreating the best memories of the past and forging a new path into a family structure and tradition of their own. Happy Father's Day to you, Bryce--my love, my hopefully-soon-to-be expectant Daddy. You're going be fabulous.