Growing up, the topic wasn’t discussed at our house. The day wasn’t acknowledged. As were most uncomfortable topics and elephants in the room at our house, they were swept under the proverbial rug, and we went about our day talking about the weather or what kind of deal we found while shopping. While on the surface, the reality of the day was diminished, what was going on in my heart was a different story.
I hated not having a dad. I hated having to explain it to people. I hated pretending that I was okay with it. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to terms with the brokenness and grieved my father’s absence. And, while it doesn’t take a way the void that exists because I don’t know my dad at all, there are some very special people who chose to love and care and influence me from a fatherly place.
There’s Neal. Neal got stuck with me when his daughter, Hope, and I became the best of friends and essentially inseparable when we were five. Neal would drive us around Minot, ND in his Eagle Scout, taking us for countless a pancake breakfast, buying us matching outfits from Kmart, all the while putting up with our endless giggling and games. Neal taught me about what it’s like to be present, to have a sense of adventure and that sometimes having no plan is the best plan at all.
And then, there’s the Dennis, the Roundhead. When his daughter, Marie, and I would spend summer weekends at the lake, he took the opportunity to teach me about the ins and outs of living through stories about “Roundheads,” and how they do or don’t do certain things. The best one was when I woke up one morning and foggy-headed made my way to the bathroom. Forgive the details, but as I was sitting on the toilet, I looked to my right, to find a little instruction: Only Roundheads look to the side when they pee. I walked out of the bathroom with the sign in my hand to find him laughing away just waiting for me to emerge. I’ve learned about life and how to avoid living like a Roundhead from Dennis, but mainly he taught me not to take myself too seriously.
In high school, I had a teacher and DECA advisor who all of us affectionately referred to as “Reis.” Not only did Reis coach me through class as a student and through both local and state leadership roles as an officer, he rallied the entire state chapter of North Dakota DECA students to support me as I campaigned for a national position. We spent hours upon hours preparing. He formed my ability to grab hold of a microphone and compose my thoughts in front of an audience. He was my biggest fan. And when I lost the national election, he walked alongside of me in Denver, CO, with his arm around my shoulder, reminding me of all the things I had to be proud of even in the loss, and how we win some and lose some in life and sometimes the journey for us in simply in the trying.
There have been friends who have become more like brothers who have checked in, pranked, celebrated and supported me at various stages of life. There have been colleagues who have mentored and challenged me. There have been men who have taught me so many valuable lessons and shaped some part of who I am. For that I am grateful, for that I celebrate.
To those of you who chose, like Neal and Dennis and Reis, to have fathered and friend-ed and encouraged and loved those who are not your own, thank you.
And finally, if I may, on this special day, offer some words to you, men.
Gentleman. Fathers. Caballeros. We celebrate you today. We celebrate the unique role that you play in the world, in families, communities and the marketplace. We look to you for advice and wisdom, and we need you to be strong and supportive and brave.
Living with integrity and a willingness to uphold standards and discipline in your life means more than you realize as the eyes of so many are watching. Your influence is great. Men, fathers, sons, brothers, let me remind you that we, the children and women and younger generations are desperate for your leadership and love and presence. We’re counting on you and cheering you on!
Happy, happy Father’s Day!