The case for speaking up while you can

Sunday, June 14, 1998

The Cincinnati Enquirer

I am feeling sorry for myself in advance.

Next Sunday is a holiday I can't celebrate, and reminders are everywhere. Rows of greeting cards. Racks of Father's Day ties. Such a cliche. A tie for Father's Day. My father's closet contained dozens of them I bought over the years.

Well, what would I get him? An electric guitar? Silk jockey shorts? He was a dad, for pete's sake. A good one. And once a year, I would let Hallmark tell him so.

I usually handed him the gift and pre-printed sentiment in person. If I did have to mail it, I always knew the address. The term Deadbeat Dad was not coined for my father's generation. These guys took care of their own, without encouragement from a domestic court referee.

Not all of them. But enough that we didn't have to assemble whole bureaucracies to chase men who owed money to their kids. No government agency has so far been able to figure out how to supply what these children are owed in delinquent personal support.

The real dad stuff.

Questions never asked

When we were preparing the death notice for the newspaper three years ago, we were asked a lot of questions about my father. Education. Job. But they didn't ask us enough questions. Or maybe just not the right ones.

They didn't ask: Was your father ever a Little League coach? And did he make sure every kid got to play? Even the ones who dropped the ball every time? Yes, yes and yes.

By the way, did he teach his girl-child to throw a spiral pass? Did he get her a first-baseman's mitt for Christmas? Because that's what he had? Did he work a second job so that she could go to college, even though high school had been plenty good enough for women in his generation?

Of course he did.

Was he a Boy Scout leader? Yes, indeed. Even after his own boys were through being scouts. Even though he'd really had more than enough of sleeping in tents when he was in the Army.

There are lots of pictures of him in his uniform in our photograph albums. But not so many of our nearly 50 years together. Birthdays, weddings, graduations, anniversaries. Photos of me and Mom. Pictures of Mom and my brothers, our spouses and kids. But not many of Dad.

He was the one holding the camera.

Pictures of me on my new Christmas bicycle. But no pictures of him taking off the training wheels, then running behind, holding onto the seat until I could keep my balance by myself. "Don't let go until I'm ready, OK, Dad?"

Did he ever build a treehouse? He did. And all the corners were square and the roof did not leak. Did he let you have a dog? Yep. Was he ever the guy at the party with the lampshade on his head? Not a chance. Did he ever refuse a job promotion so that his children would not have to change schools? Many times. Did he ever cheat at cards? I don't think so.

Getting smarter

I was not Daddy's Little Girl. We fought a lot, especially when I was a teen-ager and knew everything. He was so strict. No alcohol in the house. He never smoked. Naturally, I couldn't wait to do both.

Later, I was smart enough to seek his advice. We had started to talk more. We even had a beer or two together. He's starting to mellow, I would think. He asked me to be executor of his will. And to manage a trust for his grandchildren.

I think this was his way of saying I turned out all right, a responsible citizen. I admire the way he lived his life, and I wish I'd said so to him. Aloud. A cappella. With no musical phrases from Hallmark. I didn't know I was running out of chances.

This one time, Dad, you let go before I was ready.

Laura Pulfer's column appears in the Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition. E-mail her at or call 768-8393 or fax 768-8340.