Can I Just Tell You?

Can I Just Tell You?Can I Just Tell You?

NPR's Michel Martin gives a distinct take on news and issues

Father's Day Reflections

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In her weekly commentary, the program's host remembers the father of her youth and adulthood, and why she will always be grateful for his love.


Every now and again, when I have something on my mind, I like to talk about it in a commentary. And today, with Father's Day coming up, I want to talk about fathers.

Can I just tell you? I appreciate my father. It isn't always easy to say that. Let's just say he has his issues, as we all do. And I think being a father really is one of the most difficult jobs there is. Such a complicated subject, fathers. We all have one, even if we don't know his name. It's the metaphor for everything big, powerful, strong. Everybody has an image of dad. Sometimes there's the scary dad, the kind who hits or drinks or worse. There's the demanding dad, the "Great Santini," the one for whom you never measure up. Thankfully, there's the kindly dad, the "Father Knows Best" dad, the Cosby dad, the one who understood you better than you understood yourself.

Those of us who are lucky enough to know our fathers probably got a combo platter of some of the above. When I think of my father, I think of a couple of things. I think of him in uniform, for one thing. He served his country in the military and then was a firefighter for - I don't know - 30 years? He was a police officer before that. But as he told me, there are meat-eaters and there are grass-eaters, and you got to know which one you are. He became a firefighter at a time when the pay was lower and the mortality rate higher than it was for cops. But as he said, you got to know who you are.

I think of him walking the dog in all kinds of weather - snow, heat, driving rainstorms - the dog, which we kids had, of course, promised to take care of. I don't know why I come back to this, but I remember thinking, yeah, this is what dads do, because my mom sure is hell wasn't walking that dog, and we weren't, either.

I think of him teaching us how to ride bikes. I think of him helping with laundry - sometimes - not happily, but doing it. I think of him scarfing down my early attempts at cooking as if it was the best thing he ever ate. And I think of him being an insufferable jerk in ways we don't need to go into here, ways that are becoming less piercing, somehow, now that he's in the hospital recovering from a stroke.

Thing of it is, I'm happy I have the memories. And my memories make me think of kids who don't have any. According to the National Fatherhood Initiative, some 24 million children live without their biological father. That's about a third of all kids in America.

Some of those kids live with a stepfather or father figure, but most do not. And of the kids living without a father, 40 percent have not seen their father at all in the past year. Obviously, it's better to have no father around in than a harmful one. And this is not to criticize or diminish the efforts of single mothers everywhere who are holding it down. Hats off to you.

But that doesn't change my appreciation for having another reality - a father who walked the dog in the rain, who picked me up at school when I broke my arm, who waited outside the dressing room when I bought my first fancy dress, who worked every day at jobs he didn't love to feed us, who, with my mother, walked me down the aisle on my wedding day.

If you have a father like that, thank him. If you are a father like that, thank you.

(Soundbite of music)

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.

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Can I Just Tell You?

Can I Just Tell You?Can I Just Tell You?

NPR's Michel Martin gives a distinct take on news and issues

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