Happy Father’s Day (Figuratively Speaking)

cartoon-of-dad-and-babyI have never purchased a Father’s Day card...never had to! Once, I jokingly told my mother I was going to give her a Father’s Day card, as she served as both my mom and dad, but she asked me to buy her a Manhattan instead. She was a great ol’ broad! Jim Beam 1, Hallmark 0.

My father left the family before I could remember him ever being a part of it, so two capable women – my mother and grandmother raised me. There were only a few times while growing up that I felt an uncomfortable absence of a father in my daily life, yet I harbored no ill feelings toward that “missing person.”

That can of worms was opened on June 5th, 1987, the day I became the father of a beautiful baby boy, named Matthew, and when resentment and deep disappointment toward my father bubbled to the surface. How could anyone not want to be a part of something as special and important as caring for his child?

Feeling unprepared for fatherhood and seeking the wisdom I was certain I’d missed without a “man around the house,” I joined a men’s group called “Sons Without Fathers.” After my very first session the moderator took me aside and told me how lucky I was that my dad wasn’t around. The rest of the “father-less bunch” had had their sperm donors living in their homes with them, but were emotionally absent. They were there and yet not there, which I can imagine is even more hurtful. I left the group a couple sessions later feeling sympathy for the men, but not enough in common to stay. Plus, I came to realize it’s not about the proximity, but rather input.

mentorI can’t speak for all “father-less sons” but I think I was always subconsciously searching for a father figure; an older sage to provide a bit of guidance, an encouraging word, or a kind connection – perceived or genuine. I had found my “fathers” and didn’t know it.

Eddie LuBell, my girlfriend’s father and successful businessman, introduced me to jazz and took me to New York clubs where different races mingled, tapped toes, clicked glasses and danced together. In the theater, I studied acting with Jack Garfein and Jeff Corey, two geniuses whose input had more to do with who I am today than I can estimate – philosophically and psychologically. And finally, Richard Janaver, with whom I wrote a TV show for seven years. Richard and I came from identical circumstances: only child, no father, raised by wolves, actor-turned-writer. For all intent and purposes we were the same person separated by thirty years in age. Richard made me a better father, by being a father I never had.

I never expressed these feelings of appreciation to these deserving mentors. I didn’t know if it would be appropriate. I still don’t. I try to pass the lessons on by being available to my son and his friends, who sometimes need an unbiased ear, an opinion or a smile and simple hug.

So, to you sperm-less donors of time, compassion, wit and wisdom I lift a mother’s Manhattan glass to honor you as examples of the best of fatherhood and who figured so prominently in my life. I wish you a heart-felt Happy Father’s Day. Sorry, no card!

Jan Heininger is an Emmy nominated writer of game shows, screenplays, teleplays and ad copy. He is a contributor to The Benevolent Dictator, a blog at writeguys.net.