Father’s Day without my father

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Sunday, June 16, is my first Father’s Day without my father.

I don’t have children. When I think about what makes a good father, I compare the fathering skills of others — including my own dad. Also, I can remember how, as a kid, I felt during interactions with my father. Although I was a child, I was still me.

I remember very well moments of feeling encouragement, embarrassment, frustration, anger, sorrow, happiness, and uselessness. And the fatherly reasonings which ran the gamut from, “I don’t care if you hate my guts now. Someday you’ll thank me,” to acts of love felt, not spoken.

My parents had five children. Three boys, two girls. Most of my father’s journalism career he commuted 85 miles round-trip on the Long Island Railroad from our Long Island home to his office in New York City. Monday through Friday dad would wake up, shower, get dressed in a suit and tie, eat breakfast, walk to the train station, ride the train to Manhattan. After an eight-hour workday he would ride the train back to the station, walk home, and confront whatever was going on in the lives of his wife and five kids.

I don’t know how my father or mother had the energy for parenting, year after year, until we kids were grown and on our own. But they did.

Learning to read, write, to think and reason; having a spiritual foundation, and a moral compass — these are characteristics I learned from my dad. He’d say, “Always tell the truth.” Even when telling the truth means getting in trouble for having done wrong.

My time as Communications Director with the Maine Department of Corrections was short, but many of the correctional workers, as well as some of the adult and juvenile prisoners, left a deep impression on me.

I attended a mock drug trial staged by prisoners at Maine Correctional Center in Windham. Several young male drug offenders were taking part in this stage play. One by one, young prisoners were called to the witness stand, examined and cross-examined by prosecuting and defense attorneys.

At issue? Who was at fault for each of these drug convictions? Was it Mr. Drugs? Or was the fault with each individual prisoner?

What surprised me was how young these prisoners were when they “first met Mr. Drugs.” I’m not naive, but their tales of smoking pot or worse before hitting teen years was heartbreaking. Life for 12-year-olds should be about the wonder of life, not needing to be high to get through life.

The Maine Correctional staffer in charge of this mock drug trial was sitting next to me. I whispered to her, “I can’t believe how young some of these prisoners were when they started drugs.”

She whispered back, “Some of them were addicted to drugs when they were born.”

At another seminar in Maine State Prison, former NBA Player and heroin addict Chris Herren was speaking to a large group of prisoners about staying drug free in the outside world. Mr. Herren spoke of positive support he received from his family. During the seminar Q&A, one young prisoner asked Herren, “What do you do for support when your whole family are drug addicts?”

I remember vividly an official at Downeast Correctional Facility in Machiasport telling me of prisoners who grew up in families where going to school, getting an education beyond grade school, was viewed as weak, a waste of time. Some prisoners buckled under the pressure.

At his funeral Mass, my brothers and sisters asked me to write and present dad’s eulogy. I spent the next day making notes about my father, realizing for the first time his parenting style was to make all his children self-sufficient.

This first Father’s Day, in his absence, and knowing the damage caused by lousy fathers, I am so very grateful for my father.

I hope you feel the same about your dad.

Scott K. Fish has served as a communications staffer for Maine Senate and House Republican caucuses, and was communications director for Senate President Kevin Raye. He founded and edited AsMaineGoes.com and served as director of communications/public relations for Maine’s Department of Corrections until 2015. He is now using his communications skills to serve clients in the private sector.

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