• The Washington Post Logo
  • The New York Times Logo
  • The Wall Street Journal Logo
  • BBC World News Logo
  • Time Logo PBS Logo
  • Manliness logo
MARCUS BROTHERTON New York Times Bestselling Author

The Unexpected Ways a Father’s Greatness is Shown

Jun 11, 2013 // By Marcus Brotherton

Father’s Day special
I am 8 years old, and I clamber up onto my dad’s shoulders to dive into the water.
We are swimming in Okanagan Lake, and I stand perfectly still, feet planted on either side of his neck. My hands are stretched down to hold his, his are stretched up to hold mine.
There is nothing overtly heroic about the moment. I splash down headfirst, and this dive is simply one of the thousands of everyday acts that can transpire during a warm summer between a father and son.
So why do I still remember it today?
In another moment I am 12, and my dad has taken me fishing at Penask Lake, high in the mountains beyond our house. It is just us. My older brother is elsewhere and busy. Mom has wisely stayed behind.
I do not remember the number of fish we catch, or what we talk about, but it is right before a meal, and Dad is sitting around the cook fire with his hat taken off. It is numbingly cold, the smoke from the charcoal drifts in our eyes, and Dad is saying a blessing for the meal, his head bare.
It strikes me as an odd gesture of respect, something of a conventionality so foreign to the playground culture of a 12-year-old boy. That’s the image that remains strongest in my memory today—
Dad’s removed hat.
How wise of the universe to allow fathers to provide their children with these unplanned moments of security—the moments that flow naturally out of a father’s solid character. These are the ingredients that build a solid platform for a child’s life; they serve as both an anchor and a springboard to all a child may become.
Moments of security don’t need to stop, even after a son has grown. For days this spring, my parents visit our home. My wife has just given birth, and so while my mom cooks and cleans and ferries the kids around town, my dad busies himself with a hundred small tasks. He mows and fertilizes my lawn. He hunts down a new remote control, as mine is broken, and programs it to correspond with every electronic thingamabob in the house. Each day he walks with our two oldest children to the park, guiding them gleefully around swings and slides.
There is nothing remarkable about the visit. Nothing intrepid. Rather, it is the sheer ordinariness of the visit that undergirds what his relationship with me has always been about.
Have you ever wondered what a parent’s most heroic acts are in a child’s mind?
We might point to the salary we bring home, the promotion we get, or the plaque of honor we hang on our wall. Nothing wrong with those. But that which is of great value in the next generation’s eyes tends to exist on a far different plain, even though they might tell you otherwise.
It’s because security has a way of being veiled to a child. The safety provided by my father when I grew up was never advertised to me. But I knew it existed. I could feel it deep in my gut.
Fortunately the veils can come off as an adult. Now I can recognize the same strength that was always there. It catches at my throat when I see it. If I watch closely, it still zips by me in the course of a million unplanned moments with my dad.
I realize not every man was parented well. And, sure, my father made mistakes, same as I make mistakes with my own children.
Yet today, may we pause to consider the many small, secure ways we were parented, as well as the ways we parent now, if we have children. That which we hold most valuable we tend to emulate. For each new generation, greatness is not far out of reach, if we so embrace it.
I can still feel my father’s greatness rustle before a meal. We are outside on the back porch, and the barbecue sizzles though the springtime air is cold.
Out of honor, Dad still removes his hat.
Question: What were some small-yet-great things your father did for you?