When I was 10, I wrote an essay about my dad for a newspaper contest. It was a Father’s Day prompt asking kids to talk about why their dad was the best dad, and the prize was a gas grill. I wrote the essay in my neatest fourth-grade cursive handwriting and signed my full name: Sarah Ilene Meinen.
Before you could say world’s greatest dad, my essay won the prize and confirmed what I had known all along: I had the best dad, a Father of the Year before FOTY was an ironic hashtag. For the next thirty years, my dad quietly lived up to his title.
My dad was a font of patience. I knocked down a neighbor’s fence shortly after I got my drivers’ license and left a note on their porch saying “So sorry I hit your fence. Please see my father regarding payment,” and included his name and phone number. My dad? Calmly bought the neighbors a new fence and encouraged me to remember that if I knocked something off of my car (a mirror, a muffler, a bumper), I should make sure to stop and put it in my trunk so he could reattach it (with duct tape).
Even though he worked long hours at the pharmacy, my dad was always available to drive me and a minivan full of friends to the mall and retrieve us as soon as we called from the pay phone outside JC Penney. Later, he was the ultimate designated driver, picking up my college boyfriend who became my husband and me at all hours of the night, swinging through the Steak and Shake drive through on the way home. In fact, Facebook reminds me that we took advantage of complimentary Dad-ber service (like Uber but less sketchy and also the driver babysits your children!) just two years ago when we attended a wedding in my hometown and thought we would be kids forever.
Once, in middle school, when I couldn’t sleep, he bought me a bag full of Dean Koontz books from the bookstore downtown and cajoled me into reading them by making up a story out of the chapter titles that was so annoying I just wanted him to get out of my room and leave me alone. I realize now that I am a parent that was exactly what he wanted—a breather from his kid at the end of a long day, but he was so darn nice about it.
My dad didn’t care that I chose not to go to college graduation because I thought the ceremony would be a drag, even though he spent four years signing tuition checks. But when I got my PhD and was the student commencement speaker, he was right there to film the whole thing and take me and my best grad school friend and our husbands to a fancy French dinner, making sure the restaurant called us doctor on the menu.
My dad was a cheerful and surprisingly interested wedding planning partner. We had so much fun picking out flowers that the florist thought he was the groom, which made us both laugh until we cried, and then my dad got the florist bill, and he really did cry a little. He gave a lovely toast at my wedding that my little brother wrote for him and he had clearly never read before.
That’s the only time I ever saw my dad talk to a large audience, and you know what? I think he hated public speaking, which is ironic because both my brother and I are national speech champions, and my dad logged hundreds of hours watching us in front of classrooms, on stages, behind lecterns. While he read his wedding toast in a flustered monotone, my mom and my parents’ best friend clutched each other’s hands and laughed themselves silly, pounding the tablecloth with stifled hilarity. Thankfully, my maid of honor rested her bouquet too close to a candle, and, when it burst into flames, no one paid attention to the rest of the toast. Fire: a nervous speaker’s dream come true.
When my youngest child was born, my dad got up early with her three big brothers and dressed them in matching shirts to visit their new sister in the hospital. He wore silly hats at grandkids’ birthday parties, was a reliably soft touch at Chuck E. Cheese, took the kids out on Thanksgiving to buy Nerf darts for a post-dinner war at the exact second they started to drive all of the adults insane, played rough in hotel pools, and hid Easter eggs where no one could find them, vying for the grandpa hall of fame as well. I think he would have been inducted, if only he had a little more time.
Father’s Day this year looks a little different than Father’s Day in 1988. The grill I won is long gone, for one thing, and, unbelievably, my dad’s gone, too. My dad died on April 25, 2019, and this is the first year I have had to celebrate dads without being able to celebrate the best dad.
My dad spent his life taking care of the people he loved, and I am so happy that one of those people was me.
If you miss your dad this Father’s Day, I hope you can find comfort in your memories of him, and I’d love it if you shared one in the comments.