On Being a Father

Few things compare to fatherhood. There’s the idea that knowing your own bloodline is taking on a life of its own. There’s the feeling of responsibility to make sure they ‘turn out right’ lest I have some adult dependents later in life. There’s the excitement of watching them do well in their fields of interest, and the pain of watching them try and fail at things they thought they wanted to do. And there’s the feeling of relief when the project is all finished and you know you did your best and that it’s been pretty damn good, thank you very much.

My daughter Kelli was born when I was 20. Dan at 22. For quite a while we figured that a family size of 4 with a boy and a girl was perfect. Why mess with it? Then about 6 years later Rob came along and we couldn’t imagine life without him in the mix too. Three little personalities to observe and enjoy, each one with its own set of joys and challenges as far as fatherhood is concerned.

In most family structures, the father gets the dubious duty of being the bad cop. It’s not a fun role, really, let me just say. The tricky part is resisting the temptation to project .. to let ‘typical kid behavior’ cause us to project worse behaviors in adulthood. I struggled with this some, I have to admit. My tendency was to err on the side of keeping things in line, but it probably would have been more wise to roll my eyes at some things and hope they pass. Hard to say now. Hindsight.

I do believe that being diligent over behavioral issues in the early years pays huge dividends. You probably get to have your biggest impact before about age 12. After that, their friends are having more influence on their decisions than anything I say. If I haven’t taught them what they needed to know by now, it might actually be too late.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of being a father is watching your kids excel at something. My daughter Kelli was pretty good at most things she tried. Learned piano quickly and gave some incredibly memorable performances. Could be a tenacious soccer player, especially on defense. I coached her team a couple of years and she made some outstanding defensive plays that saved the game. Seemed to go on auto-pilot at school. Just always seemed to bring home the grades with little or no involvement on my part. Now she’s a teacher with 10 years experience and I have 2 grandkids. Wow. Someone pinch me.

Dan was pretty athletic from the get-go. Baseball was his thing from about age 7-14 or so. I remember my eyes lighting up when he was 9 and threw me about 10 strikes in a row with pretty good velocity. Could I possibly have a pitcher on my hands? Yep. He got some good opportunities to shine in Little League and JBA as a teen and was a joy to watch. He had this uncanny ability that, in any situation on the mound, it seemed like when he needed a strike, he could deliver one. I don’t know who was more excited about that fact, him or me. It was fun to write the article for the Tualatin Times that said “Toner faced 12 batters and struck out 11”. He was no slouch in soccer, basketball, or cross-country either.

Rob excelled in chess early on, and he was always kind of a natural at soccer. I think he finished 2nd in State in a chess tournament as a 5th grader. I tried playing him in about the 3rd grade and consistently lost. You wouldn’t think chess was a particularly exciting event to watch unless you’re the parent of someone competing. Let me tell you, it was pretty exciting! In soccer he’d make guys twice his size go flying in one-on-one confrontations with the ball. It was hilarious to watch. He could get it done with good moves and had great passing ability. But the event I remember the most was when he was 9 in ‘AA’ baseball. You know the team picture with the smallest kid in the front row with his knees crossed? That was Rob. That’s why as his coach, twice that year when I was coaching 3rd I was ecstatic that I got to wave him around 3rd for an inside the park home run. My arm was moving! He had pounded the ball in-between right and center, making the outfielders chase. That’s what’s truly awesome about being a dad.

I hope all my kids get to experience parenthood. Kelli and her husband Kyle seem to have to formula down pat and best of all, they are on the same page. My sons are both working on it and that’s fine. Take your time and do it right. The rewards are in the final result when you get to watch these self-sufficient individuals pursue their own careers and families.

Like their parents, they aren’t perfect. But it’s what I call ‘close enough’ to say no regrets what-so-ever. For Father’s Day, next weekend we are all going to run a 5K together in Tigard. What’s significant about it is that in the past 7 months I’ve had 2 strokes. One in Dec. and another one in Jan. This is my ‘comeback’ run. To me it’s kind of a big deal. I wasn’t healthy and now I’m striving to be. I’ve been training since April using the C25K program and it hasn’t been easy. I’ve had to work pretty hard to get ready, but I’m a week away and looking forward to running with my kids. They can all blow by Dad on the course and make me look silly now that I’m 54 and had some health issues. But little do they know, that’s what I wanted! Why? Because I enjoy watching them all do well, perhaps more than they know.

On this Father’s day, I figured I’d just reflect on these things a bit and enjoy the moment.

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