Celebrating Father’s Day for all it’s worth

Celebrating Father’s Day for all it’s worth

In these uncertain times, often filled with combative politics, polarizing views, and disrespectful debate over definitions of social ‘norms’ and ‘acceptance’, let’s try to celebrate Father’s Day for what it should be……. a chance to recognize a male figure(s) in your life that impacted you in some meaningful way .

Everyone has a biological father, even if they’re not raised by him. A father is a male parent by definition. For sake of this article, please, no debates on definition of a male, or even a female for that matter! I’ve seen the birthing father emoji and hear the occasional cable news rhetoric. I have to admit getting a chuckle when I see that emoji, by the way. In some ways, it gives us guys way too much undeserved credit  While some of us fathers may have felt like we too ‘carried’ that baby during the entire pregnancy, the reality is that most of us men would not want to sign up for the most physically painful part of that deal…..the actual labor and ‘delivery’ phase!  No how, no way. God bless our moms for all they do!

Let’s just leave that topic to the so-called experts and others from all sides of life that so vehemently feel the need to spend time in heated debate.

For me personally, I can only share the facts about my childhood, and what shaped and influenced me up to this point at the ripe young age of 63. I’m not here to ponder or debate whether our family was the ‘norm’ or the ‘exception’. Or whether it was the right way, wrong way, best way or whatever, I’m simply sharing the facts of my life as I know it in regards to our own family structure.

I was born to Joann and Earl Koss on May 4, 1959. My parents were married on January 31, 1959. It might have immediately jumped out at you; or maybe not. If the ‘math’ appears a little off to you, I can say with 100% certainty, I was not a “premie”.  I developed in my mother’s womb a full nine months and thankfully arrived to the world without any noticeable health issues or concerns. We’ve never really discussed it in much detail over the years, but I somehow imagine it didn’t go over too well when my mom, who was actually 17 years-old when she was first pregnant with me, and my dad, who was closer to age 18 than 19 at the time, broke the news to both sets of parents.

Today, I’m so fortunate and blessed both of my parents are still with us. They’ve remained married since, and I fondly remind and thank them for making it pretty easy for me to remember how many years they are celebrating marriage when each wedding anniversary date arrives on the calendar. Next May, I turn 64. Happy 64th wedding anniversary mom and dad!

Dad was a silent but strong leader during my childhood years

My mother always was and always will be the matriarch of our family. I say this with respect and deep love and admiration. It’s just a fact. My mom has always made most of the key decisions and plans as a family growing up, and my father rubberstamped, enforced and carried out these decisions and choices in a very supportive manner. That’s not to say there weren’t any money arguments or other squabbles in the household. There always are in most any marriage. But those disagreements didn’t linger. None of this works unless there is a deep sense of love and trust within a marriage. And they had it and it continues strongly to this day.

Dad was a man of few words as we were growing up, but we knew how much he cared. He was a hard worker. He spent his career here in the Motor City (Detroit) working in a General Motors (GM) factory performing various tasks that were often physically and mentally tolling, and under conditions (heat, etc.) that were not as tolerable as today’s more modern factory environments. In his later years on the factory floor, he was able to step into less physically demanding jobs based on his seniority. Throughout all this time, I don’t think he ever once refused overtime when offered. I’m sure he felt he should maximize any income opportunity given we were a family of six (I was the oldest among the four siblings).   On the side, he and some buddies and my uncle would do indoor and outdoor paint jobs for local residents as a way to make extra income for the family needs.

On the home front, my dad took great effort keeping everything looking immaculate around the house, especially outdoors. His lawns would always rank among the best manicured in our blue collar, working class community on the east side of Detroit. While our homes were modest by today’s measure, (typically no larger than 1,100 square ft., with only one bathroom), neighborhood residents took pride in ownership and our community was a great place to grow up.

My dad always seemed to be doing some little ‘project’ or another around the house; mostly minor remodeling types. Unfortunately, his handyman skills didn’t rub off on me. I never wanted to stick around the house long enough to learn. I never showed an interest in learning how to build something, to paint, to do a fairly minor plumbing or electrical job. I only wish I had taken the time to learn these key skills from dad. It would have saved me a lot of money and embarrassment years later. For any friend or family member that has witnessed my attempts at ‘do-it-yourself’ home projects once I eventually became a homeowner of my own, they know exactly what I am talking about. Let’s just say I was never mistaken for the character Tim “tool-time” Taylor in the old sitcom, Home Improvement, nor Bob Vila, the most trusted name in home repair and renovation. Quite the contrary.

Father-Son bonding in our own subtle way

As I’ve stated, my father was a man of few words when we were children. While at times I may have thought he was too quiet and took his role as father of the family way too serious, there were many subtle moments that I remember; moments which made you know how much we meant to him.

Once in a while, he would stop his lawn duties for a short break and join me in a game of ‘Horse’ (or ‘Pig’, if he was rushed for time) around the basketball hoop that was hoisted up high on the front of our garage. Or to stop and play a little baseball ‘catch’ in the driveway. Those were the special moments. Or on those cold Sunday mornings when I was 12 and 13 as a Detroit News paper delivery boy, my dad often got up at 6am to help me on my paper route. Those Sunday newspapers were thick and heavy. Delivering them to my 60 customer’s doorsteps was much easier from dad’s station wagon tailgate than loading up my front handlebar canvas bag and rear fender side saddle bags on my bicycle, especially on a subzero, snowy, winter morning.

Looking back, I have long since realized he was being the best father he could be. The only one he knew how to be. He was strong. He showed us by example the value of hard work, discipline, and devotion. We knew we would be held accountable for any wrongdoings, and if there were things we wanted that were material, we knew we had to work part time jobs to buy them or maintain them ourselves. He would always help us in any way, but we knew not to simply expect a handout.

Also looking back, I fully realize I was not the easiest to be around, especially as a teenager. I never crossed the line with any terrible wrong doing because I was brought up to know right from wrong; good from evil. But let’s just say I often didn’t apply myself in high school and my grades suffered for it, and I screwed off way too often on the social front. I’m not sure I could have handled a teenager like me!

But even then, as much of a handful as I think I was at times, my dad bought me my very first car, which I was eligible to drive the day I turned 16 (I had paid for my own private driver’s training instruction well in advance of my 16th). It was a 1968 Ford Mustang, candy apple red, fastback edition. He bought it from his best buddy for $400. I was responsible for the insurance, gas, maintenance, etc. but I couldn’t have afforded to buy it had he not made the initial purchase. We’ll save the rest of the Mustang story for another time. Let’s just say it didn’t have a great ending, all due to my negligence and foolishness of youth. I didn’t realize what a gem I truly had in that car. A couple foolish fender benders later, and I ended up selling less than two years into it for less than I probably should have. The school of hard knocks often begins at an early age. Mine started around the beginning of high school, and thankfully ended not long after my senior year.

Time to fly from the nest

Shortly after high school, I met Ruth, we dated for awhile and then married in October of 1980. By then, I was about 21 1/2 years old. Somewhat young for marriage, maybe not by 1959 standards, but by now 1980 standards. I was certain that’s what I wanted. I wanted a family. We had our first child, Brian, born 3 1/2 years later, in May of 1984. Our 2nd and last child, Kevin, arrived nearly two years later in February 1986. These were exciting times, and I was never more happy than when I became a father, twice over. To this day, I am as proud, thrilled and thankful for the opportunity to be called “dad” as I was the minute the boys first opened their eyes.

Those years breezed by way too quickly but now I get to watch our oldest son Brian develop and prosper in his role as an amazing father of four children. I’m so proud of the father and man that he’s become, and in many ways, I think he’s figured things out even better than I ever could.

I’m equally as proud of our youngest son Kevin, who many of you know either personally or through our open dialogue since the launch of KEVADVOTECH.

There is no prouder honor I could have than simply being Kevin’s dad. Despite his struggles and challenges dealt him through his traumatic brain injury suffered at the age of 15, I’m pleased and proud to witness his pure heart and gentle soul. And despite the injury, his core values are firmly engrained within him; all established during his younger years.

When Kevin is having a good day, it is amazing and heartwarming to see a glimpse of his old, clever humor, or watch him as he watches, observes and tries to interact with his three nieces and one nephew. Those moments are priceless.

There is no one size fits all regarding fatherhood best practices

Every family’s situation is different. Every child’s personality is different. And we as fathers can’t expect our actions and guidance will always achieve the best results. We can only hope we were more right than wrong regarding the nurturing and support we tried to provide our children. I’m just thankful I had a baseline going into this new, adventurous and somewhat daunting phase of life. That baseline was my father, as I observed him as I was growing up. Minus my already confessed lack of mechanical and handyman skills I failed to develop in younger years, I tried my best to get the core basics of fathering right.

While overall I am pleased knowing I did the best I could, I do sometimes look back and wish I had done more. Or at least done some things differently.  But overall, no major regrets. I hope my dad feels the same about how he raised us. Proud, pleased and knowing we’ve both done the best we could so far as fathers.

And not to be overlooked, I was also quite blessed to inherit an amazing father-in-law along the way as part of my marriage. We lost him around 10 years ago at the age of 89. But he was truly a pillar of a good man, grounded in solid family values. A wonderful father, father-in-law and grandfather to his two grandsons.

Our son Brian has been similar in good fortune as well, as he inherited a wonderful father-in-law as part of his marriage into my daughter-in-law’s family.

Lack of a bloodline doesn’t deter real men from acting as a father should

I know many step-fathers (within my own family as well) that have and continue to be outstanding father’s to the children of the family they remarried into. In many ways, those situations can be even more challenging as they try to garner the trust and respect as the ‘new’ father of the house. It takes patience and courage to stay the course. I deeply admire this group of fathers and all they continue to do to this very day.

And please understand, I’m not trying to minimize the positive impact their biological fathers may have made (or not made) along the way during those early years toward the betterment and growth of their child, prior to a divorce. There are so many stories written about fathers and their success or failure trying to keep the father-child relationship healthy and meaningful after a breakup. No one ever said divorce or separation wasn’t messy or tricky. Over the years, I’ve even seen some families built, and rebuilt through 2nd, 3rd or even 4th attempts at marriage. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Who am I to judge?

I have uncles, a brother-in-law, a nephew and a couple long-time good buddies that have never been biological fathers themselves. Yet, they’ve had a significant, positive impact and influence on children across the width of our extended family. My two sons in particular are the beneficiaries of some of these longtime, wonderful relationships. We are so thankful and appreciative of these relatives and friends that have been so kind and giving of themselves over the years. You are amazing and we celebrate you today as well.

One uncle (never married) in particular stepped in when his niece and her then husband divorced, leaving her two very young children without a father presence in the house. He did everything like a good father would to ensure those kids had the best upbringing possible. I’m sure his brother (also single and never married) played a significant role as well. I know the kids love them both as they would a father. Happy Father’s Day to my uncles!

Similarly, I have other relatives in my life that were like a father to me. Growing up, one particular uncle was almost like a father and brother all in one. Hard to describe. But in any case, he treated me as if I were his own son. Our relationship was special and I enjoy our long distance conversations (whether via a voice call or text) today whenever we get a chance to connect.

It’s great to see when men across various walks of life take a child under their wings, especially someone who never experienced having a father or a father-figure in the household. Whether it is through a volunteer organization, a school or social club, we can never have enough solid, male mentors in our life. We celebrate these men today as well. Thank you for all you do!

And at the risk of breaking my own rule stated at the onset of this article (wanting to avoid debate about society norms and acceptance), I’ve known family scenarios where someone fathered a child early in marriage, only to pronounce later on they were gay. While the marriages quickly ended in divorce, these men continued to be the best possible father to their bloodline child as they possibly could, despite these new dynamics. They didn’t skip a beat as loving, responsible fathers.

Please forgive me, but I have no relevant experience or witness into the dynamics and opportunities presented to fathers in the transgender arena. This category is all fairly new to me. Other than a very periphery glimpse into Caitlyn Jenner’s life from my TV chair, I’ll have to get back to you on this one. I do realize it is evolving into the all new version of ‘Modern Family’. Again, who am I to judge?

Bottom line, there are plenty of opportunities for ‘never been’ biological fathers, ‘relocated’ fathers, or total outsiders to engage, contribute and be a positive influence on a child’s life.

Life with Dad post traumatic teenage years

Not long after I graduated high school, moved away from home and eventually married, my relationship with my father evolved. He was no longer that quiet guy that seemed so serious all the time. We talked more frequently. We laughed more. I think we both started to look at each other in a different light. I was no longer that rambunctious teenager he needed to keep a careful eye on. Maybe he felt a sense of relief and accomplishment that the ‘heavy lifting’ phase of raising me as a child was in the rear view mirror. It was a chance to finally let his hair down a bit.

I was no longer that teenager that wanted to keep distance between us. I wanted both my father and my mother to be a main staple in my growing, young family. We always looked forward to Christmas and Easter at mom and dad’s house as my family grew. As my two boys grew into teenagers and beyond, it was my turn to host more frequent family gatherings at our home. It was a chance for dad and mom to relax more and simply enjoy watching what they started growing many years before.

Some of my favorite memories stem from parties we hosted at the marina after I bought my first boat in 2001. For a long stretch of years, the marina became our gathering place for family and friends. My dad loved the lake life (he too was a boat owner off/on in his younger days). But he especially enjoyed being around all the friends and family we gathered there.  It was a chance for him to share stories and crack jokes. My father has always had this quick, dry, sense of humor. My friends enjoyed being around him. Those were always fun times.

Over the past 6-8 years, my father’s hearing has declined significantly. Despite trying and retrying many different hearing aids over the past many years, none seem to help. The result of this has been that my dad is no longer the same in large groups of people. While he tries his best to keep up with conversations, it’s difficult. While it pains me to see him this way, it’s a pleasure to still see his occasional glimpses of  humor come out in conversations. The main thing is he still enjoys being with the crowd.

Today, dad remains a devoted husband and father. Although he has slowed down a bit (haven’t we all as we age?), we are all so proud of the way he cares for our mother, who has some fairly significant mobility issues. He’s always there for her.  He’s the dedicated caregiver, homemaker and still the ‘handyman’. If we could somehow manage to keep dad from climbing ladders or standing on chairs, maybe the rest of the family could sleep better at night!

Fathers and father figures matter 

To me it seems, fathers and father figures are often underrated. They can play a significant role in a child’s life (long into their adulthood), whether that father figure comes in the form of being the biological father, a step-father, an uncle or other relative, a close friend or a mentor for that matter. You can never have too many fathers in your life.

Today, we celebrate all of you. Happy Father’s Day!