Great dad moments — past, present and continuing

Father's Day can be a bittersweet holiday for those of us who have lost our dads. No more cards to pick or ties to select. No cakes to bake. No hugs to give or receive.

But loving memories are everlasting. And great dad moments are happening all around us.

My dad loved sports. I have scallop-edged snapshots of my father skiing. The black-and-white images were taken decades before I was even a twinkle in his eye.

Dad taught me to love the water. He taught me to body surf during lazy summer holidays spent at Santa Barbara beaches. I loved to watch him fishing as the sun was dropping, standing knee deep in the rolling surf as the sky and the sea turned to orange. I can see his hands digging in the rushing tide, catching sand crabs in the early morning. I held his hand as I wandered, groggy from being pulled from my bed, during midnight grunion runs.

My heart carries memories of an after-work batting session in our backyard. I was about 8 years old. Softball was my passion. But I had a bad habit of flailing wildly at anything flung in my general direction.

"Stay steady, Tiger," Dad said. "No matter what the distractions, keep your eye on the ball. And wait for your pitch."

His lesson worked so well I was eventually able to connect. A screaming line drive headed straight toward his chest. Unfortunately, it knocked his Jim Beam highball right out of his hand. Oops.

Yes, my father had his imperfections. And, truth be told, I was closer to Mom than to Dad. She was so much easier to love. And to understand. She didn't drink. She didn't yell. But that doesn't mean I don't have great memories of Dad. Or that he didn't give me great gifts.

Mom, the family pragmatist, always urged me to keep my feet on the ground. My father, a natural-born dreamer, encouraged his youngest daughter to fly. To spread her wings, take risks and believe all things are possible. Guess which lesson might bring you the most joy.

Thank you, Dad.

But our genetic paternal figures are not the only fathers who touch our lives — who inspire, guide and cherish us.

I was lucky enough to have wonderful uncles and a beloved grandfather. All these men added to the paternal registry.

My grandfather was the family patriarch. Witty, wise and a natural-born gardener.

When I was a little girl, Uncle Bob used to swing me in the air, give me gumdrops for breakfast and make my mother laugh with delight.

Mom's youngest brother, Uncle Frank, had an infectious laugh that could be heard throughout the neighborhood. He inspired my love for cooking.

I also had an amazing sixth-grade teacher. Mr. Williams' lessons still reverberate. I'm not talking about math, science or English. This man showed several of us trapped in that scary class of miscreants the path to self-respect. He spoke honestly and openly about life. About choices and consequences. Although I was frequently tempted to start, I never smoked a cigarette for the simple reason that I swore to this man I would not. And I could not bear the notion of breaking faith with someone who had trusted me with the truth in an era where treating kids like marshmallow-headed idiots was so prevalent.

These days I get a vicarious father fix from watching The Englishman interact with his dad. My beau's father is of Belgian extraction, and an endearing combination of Mr. Wizard, Mr. Magoo and Mr. Rogers. He has a sunny smile and always arrives with a lovely box of chocolates for yours truly. What's not to love here?

But T.E. worries about the former Lockheed engineer, who is now retired and widowed. I try to tell him The Belgian has an irrepressible optimism. It is fed by his dedication to provide service to others. The 80-plus-year-old fellow spends his days volunteering for the Knights of Columbus, the Red Cross and performing other charitable work.

In his spare time, which is really very little, The Belgian engages in his hobby — woodworking. I have received an adorable birdhouse. But what tickles me most is when he combines all aspects of his triple-play personality and makes The Englishman a toy. Yes, you read that right. T.O.Y.

In his Illinois Valley abode, T.E. proudly displays wooden boats, planes and even a very cool doll house that his Bay Area father has created over the years. (I suspect T.E. would prefer I come up with another name for the small-scale dwelling adorning his home. But it's a doll-less doll house, nonetheless. And T.E. rescued it from his dad's garage.)

"He's making me a steamship now," said T.E., with a throaty chuckle.

Thus proving the adage, "We may all grow old. But we don't have to grow up." And we never stop needing our dads.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or e-mail

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