Greta was uneasy on the phone and that was not like her. Normally my daughter is quite comfortable talking with me about anything. But not this day.
It was approximately four years ago and I was standing in the atrium of the building in which my office is located at the college. The atrium is the only place in that structure where we can get a decent cell phone signal. This in a building called the Advanced Technology Center. The irony is lost on no one.
She was planning her wedding, still months away but approaching fast, and when she mentioned her stepdad, Frank, it did not take a genius to put two and two together as to why she seemed so anxious. “Greta,” I interrupted. “Are you trying to say you’d like Frank to walk you down the aisle along with me? If so, the answer is yes.”
And with that, I could feel through the phone a sense of relief washing over her. I could not see her, but I knew she was smiling her wide, bright smile. From the time she was born I had made it my business to get her to smile that smile as often as I could.
Honoring Greta’s wedding day wishes, even this one, was easy. But a lot of people who love me did not see it that way. “He’s not her father,” they said. “You are. And you have rights.”
They did not understand the only fatherly “right” I was interested in was the right to make my daughter happy.
I’ve had many opportunities to show my two children the type of man their dad is but none more important than the first day I met Frank. I had been aware of him for almost three years, ever since my wife at the time told me she was in love with an old college boyfriend. The kids had been in his company a few times but I had never seen him, not even in a photograph. With our divorce all but complete, however, and their move to his home in New Jersey imminent, it was time we became acquainted.
He drove to our home in Clarks Summit on a Sunday morning. I coached youth soccer and my son, Michael, and I were at a game when he arrived.
“There’s his car,” was all Michael said as we pulled into the driveway.
Frank was seated on the couch in our family room but, ever the gentleman, stood as soon as we walked in. Michael, 9 at the time, made a beeline for the love seat and crawled up next to Greta, who was 12.
I walked right over and extended my hand. “You must be Frank,” I said. “I’m Eddie.”
Out of the corner of my eye I could see that familiar Greta smile. Michael was smiling, too. This is going to be much better than we had feared, their faces seemed to say.
I suggested Frank and I go for a walk.
We strolled down to the pond near our home. You would think there was plenty to talk about, but in truth, there was not. We both knew what had brought us there and where we were going.
As we got back to our front gate I stopped and faced him.
“Frank, I must be honest,” I said, “I wish you didn’t exist. But since you obviously do, and since I must entrust to you the well being of three people I love, I have no choice but to hope you are the greatest guy in the world.”
“I don’t know if I can be the greatest guy in the world,” he responded, “but I will do my best to take good care of your children.”
We shook hands and went inside.
That was close to 25 years ago and I’ve seen Frank surprisingly little since. We did, of course, wind up on either side of Greta as we awaited the start of her wedding processional, “Here Comes the Sun,” by The Beatles. I took advantage of that quiet moment to remind Frank of our conversation the first time we met and thanked him for more than living up to his end of the bargain.
I’m not sure why all of this came to mind as another Father’s Day arrives, except perhaps that as I thought about my two children last week, it occurred to me for all the things Greta and Michael are very good it, what pleases me most is the one thing each of them is very bad at.
They are very bad at hating.
In fact, they don’t know how to hate at all. The word “hate” is not in their vocabulary.
I’d like to think I’ve had a lot to do with that. And I believe the example I set dealing with one of the most horrible situations I could imagine is a big part of it.
Where loves reigns there is no room for hate. My kids witnessed this first hand. And they took it to heart.
Ed Ackerman writes The Optimist every week for Greater Pittston Progress. Look for his blogs online during the week at pittstonprogress.com.