When I was a kid I saw our male cat returning, after several days of exploring, to see four tiny kittens on newspaper on our kitchen floor. He took one astonished look, bolted for the door, and never came back.

I know it isn’t easy.

When I was twenty nine, with a one year-old and a four year-old, I became clear that my young marriage would not last a lifetime as I had hoped. I had to face the decision of whether to give their father joint-custody – not a common practice in those days. Everyone, including my parents and my lawyer, counseled against it.

I put all the pros and cons on a paper. And then I remembered their father who woke up every night to care for them as infants, who fully took on half of their caretaking, and who, even after we separated, would come to the door and take an infant in one arm, and a box of pampers in the other. How could I not give this good father shared custody of his children?

This turned out to be the best decision I ever made in my life. I realized that no one, not my parents, not anyone, loved my children unconditionally, as their father did. He was the one who picked them up every time, was never late, and restored their confidence in him as a parent. As my daughter said, when she was six, having seen a father who was reliable 100% of the time “I learned that he would never leave me.

Both of my children benefitted from the many skills and traits he passed on to them. My daughter was able to create a good life and a bonded marriage with a trustworthy man. My son had the confidence and love he needed to become a strong and trustworthy man.

During the many years of being a single mother I learned the importance of fathers who stayed, or wanted to stay, in their children’s lives. I know their love is precious, and priceless, and oftentimes unrecognized.

My own father was there for me until the day he died, watching over my children and me, doing what was needed to ensure we always had a roof over our heads, and providing a calm voice of guidance in times of duress. I remember calling him in a great upset once, and his saying, “Before you tell me your problem, I have two questions: is your roof up… and did your children eat today?” I can’t remember today the problem I called him with, but I do remember the peace that came over me, and the gratitude I felt for the perspective he brought to my life.

Today I am blessed with new wonderful fathers in my life. My husband Marc, the father of five children, raised his first son alone as a single father until that boy was eight years old. I think this part of his background, and the character it showed, won me over. He went on to raise four more children in northern Maine, shoveling paths in the snow to feed pets, and driving miles to athletic events – after he himself had driven a two-hour round trip to work. He gave all of his time and loving attention to them and was always there to make sure they had what they needed.

As they ventured out into their adult lives he traveled across the country to see them. He used all of his vacation time and sick time for years to travel to California when one got into trouble, never asking for anything in return. This is what fathers do.

Marc reminds me, to acknowledge his own father, now 90, who returned home after ten years in the Merchant Marines. He came back to raise four children and to be there for them for the rest of his life.

Who would know, unless you have done it, or witnessed it closely, what a father does?

Some are not always “emotionally engaged” in the ways a mother can be, but they are always there, willing to put their lives on the line for their children.

I know that in today’s society many fathers leave, and don’t return. I think, that in addition to the pain their children feel, that they too feel an inconsolable loss in their lives.

In closing, I take my hat off to my son-in-law Steve, the father of an almost five-year-old boy, and twin baby girls. People usually look to my daughter, Rebecca, a wonderful mother, to ask her how the kids are doing, not realizing that Steve is doing a lion’s share of the caretaking. And he is a lion, in every sense of the word, strong and caring for his brood. I don’t have enough words to thank him for what he does.

Here’s to fathers, all of them who stayed. Your gifts are priceless and boundless –
– and oftentimes invisible and unrecognized.

Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

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