Brian Mittge : Saluting the universal father


My daughter and I are traveling this week and I'm sending this column from the road. It's been so sweet to spend solo time with one of my children, especially knowing that my wife is home having a similarly rewarding one-on-one time with our youngest son. For both pairs of parent-and-child, this means quiet conversations and fun adventures; sharing meals, smiles, inside jokes and special moments that become lifetime memories.

As we've traveled, I've been so heartened to catch glimpses of other fathers out there in their own dadly duties. It's timeless, it's the same everywhere, and it's so good to see.

My daughter and I found ourselves waiting at an airport departures drop-off point for a while during our travels. Seeing a succession of dads dropping their kids and families off for flights was very moving.

There was the dad with a young pre-teenager, hugging him and sharing his love, and leaving as his final words, “listen to your mom.”

That's a good man.


Then there was the older father dropping his college-age son off to spread his wings. The son was excited and bright-eyed as he faced open, clear horizons. The man was holding back his emotion, forcing a smile as he put his boy onto a jet plane and launched him into the world.

His face deeply lined and his hair turning gray, this old man’s last great act of masculine leadership and superman strength was to show his son the support and confidence he feels in him, not the worry. The young man doesn't need that burden.

To him the world is open and full of possibilities. Only the dad knows all the potential troubles and pitfalls ahead. But at this point he also has realized that for better or worse, he's done everything he can and taught what he could. Whatever lessons are ahead, his son will have to learn them on his own.

So he gives his boy the gift of a smile, although he's breaking inside.

As the son turns away and steps boldly forward into his future, I see the man's hand drop from a goodbye wave and involuntarily bounce a bit with nervous energy, like chopping an invisible block of wood, before coming to rest at his side. Only this slight twitch betrays the anxiety he feels for his son and the pain he carries for the loss of another cord binding the formerly young family together as his children leave home.


A few years ago my own dad told a similar story. He said that when he and my mom dropped me off at college, after they helped me unload into my dorm and gave me all the hugs and appropriate words, they plastered smiles onto their faces until I turned away for that last time. Only then as they drove away did they let the sadness show. I had enough going on. I didn't need to carry their parental feelings as well as my own. They could still carry that for me even as I left their home.


But this week's travels have shown the joy of parenting, too.

We found ourselves at a sandy beach, and it was such a joy to watch dads caring for their kids. Often that means throwing them around with the careful yet carefree physical exuberance with which dads have delighted their exhilarated children and worried their wives for time immemorial.

One moment that sticks out was watching a dad racing through the heavy sand a few steps ahead of his happily exasperated daughter, holding her Coke in front of him. It's keepaway and the chase is on.

His huge grin and playfulness broke through her young teenage attempts at aloofness. In a world that increasingly demands her to be beautiful, cool and perfect, her dad pulls her back into simple childhood.

The mom looked on and smiled. These kinds of simple, silly moments bring a family closer together. They heal whatever little hurts have accumulated and create a stronger base for any hard conversations to come.

And then there is the care and protectiveness. I saw a young dad carrying an infant emerge from shadows into hot noontime sun.

Just as I said to myself “That baby needs a hat,” the man pulled out a perfect sun hat and put it into position. His baby protected, the man and child continued down life's path.


You'll never see a stronger, more confident and more contented man than one who is caring for his family. Through playfulness and pain, sacrifice and thoughtfulness, drudgery and duty, being a dad is the ultimate fulfillment of a man's deepest longings.

It's often hard, it's sometimes heartbreaking, it can be exhausting and overwhelming, but it's always good.

As I thought through all these things and admired the great dads around me, and as I thanked God for this special time with my own daughter, I found myself wishing there were a universal symbol of fatherhood solitary. I wish we had a salute of appreciation and understanding we could flash from one dad to another.

But really, beyond an occasional nod of respectful acknowledgment, we don't need it.

Doing our dad thing is why we're here. For every father  in every era across every land and language, that's just understood.

No need to make a big deal about it. We do what needs to be done and we know that it's our reason for being here. We carry the weight and thank God for the opportunity.

‘Nuff said.


Brian Mittge’s columns appear in The Chronicle each Saturday. He can be reached at