Ask a lot of people what fathers do, and they answer "protecting and providing." It's short, alliterative, and an easy answer.
But I really don't think that's the half of what a good dad does. A fatherless child may be protected by the police and provided for by welfare, but that doesn't keep him from still wanting and needing a dad.
What does a dad do?
Well, let me think of things that my dad did for me.
He kept up, over the whole of my childhood, a steady stream of humor, wisdom, and Princess Bride quotes.
He sat on the couch to read, and I would sit beside him, crossing my legs exactly like Daddy had his. There's a picture of me doing this with my book upside-down. It wasn't about the book. It was about being close to Daddy.
There were the Vulcan high-fives, the tickle-fights, the staring contests that could last all of dinner without either of us looking away.
There the wise sayings that will stay with me my whole life -- "You can always cook it more, but you can't cook it less," "The government governs best that governs least," "A government that can give everything to you can take everything from you," "Do or do not, there is no try."
It was my dad who encouraged me to go to community college my senior year of high school, who talked me through my first career decision, who helped me with my math homework when my mom could barely stand to look at the textbook anymore.
My dad was the one who had me read one news article every day and tell him over dinner what I'd found out. He describes historical events so well we joke he actually was around to see them.
My dad is responsible for my musical tastes -- Moody Blues, Rush, Kansas, Alan Parsons Project -- and my love of science fiction from Star Trek to Babylon 5 to Isaac Asimov's Foundation Trilogy.
It's not that I'm ungrateful about the sacrifices he made to bring home a steady paycheck that kept our family going. But it's the day-in, day-out relationship he had with us that makes more of a difference to me.
John is the same. Sure, he has a job. But that isn't the half of what he does.
For the better part of Marko's life, John's been the one to rock him to sleep at night. When Marko gets hurt, it's Daddy he runs to for a hug.
When I go out with just the kids, Marko clings close to me, nervous, a lot of the time. If Daddy's there, he feels more secure and confident, and doesn't mind waving at strangers.
John is the one who taught Marko that disgusting things are hilarious (oh dear) and that wearing crazy things on your head is fun. He pushes Marko to be okay with some of his fears -- like seeing him without glasses on or calling Gilbert "Ultradog." (I cannot explain why Marko is afraid of these things, but there it is.)
John plays with the boys, swings them around, tickles them, and laughs with them. He makes them lunch and he comforts them when they're crying. He tries to make my life easier so that I have an easier time being there for them when he's not.
I'm grateful to John for bringing home the bacon, but there is no way I would ever reduce his value to a paycheck. He's not a dad eight hours a day, he's a dad twenty-four hours a day. The boys need him like they need me. His presence is not optional; it's essential. He's a real father.
Thank you to both my husband and my father for being the kind of wonderful dad your children need.