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by Dave Markwell

“My Dad is the coolest dad in the world!” I thought, as I stared at my shredded jeans and, very fortunately, barely scratched thigh. I was around ten and had just suffered a could-have-been-catastrophic-but-wasn’t incident with a chainsaw and was a bit rattled. My Dad told me we wouldn’t tell my Mom about this little mishap. I was very happy about this.

At the time, I was relieved. Even before the saw stopped whining, I was thinking about my Mom’s reaction to this episode. And it wasn’t good. I felt, by not telling my Mom, my Dad was, if not stepping in front of the bullet for me, certainly pushing me out of the way. And I was grateful.

Many years later, while reliving this experience, it occurred to me that my Dad wasn’t as concerned with saving my bacon as he was saving his own. My Mom might very well have fired up the chainsaw and done some real damage had she found out. But, she didn’t.

Here lies a fundamental element of “Dadhood”: self-preservation. Few creatures in nature are more instinctually aware of potential risk than a Dad. An impala in lion territory has no finer sense of danger than a Dad faced with the steely eyes of an angry wife. This sense results in feverish, creative and prompt responses to circumstances such as letting your son use a chainsaw and then him nearly amputating his own leg. My Dad was quick to act and decided that telling my Mom was NOT going to happen. Thanks, Dad. I liked using the chainsaw and those days would have been over.

This incident illustrates the difference between a “father” and a “dad”: Fathers warn of the risks of using a chainsaw. Dads start the damn thing. Fathers go to work and pay bills and administer the serious punishments. Dads BBQ in the rain while drinking cheap beer and smiling. Fathers dispense life lessons and critical advice. Dads give wedgies, monkey-bumps, and hurts-donuts. Fathers are concerned about the future. Dads live in the moment. Fathers instruct ethics and morals and good sense. Dads fart a lot. Fathers ask about your friends. Dads walk around the house in their underwear in front of them.

All men with children are varying degrees of both father and dad. Both roles are vital to raising un-weird kids. Understanding when to pop into which role is important. It is a delicate balance and like fathers and dads themselves, imperfect, but necessary.

Today, as I was going through the sacred box of my kids’ memories, I found my son’s “Presidential Citation for Academic Excellence” certificate. I was very proud the day he received this. In the box, I also found my son’s certificate of ordination in the “Church of Dude-ism”. I grabbed my “minister” son’s diploma and hung it on my cork board in my gym. I looked at it and smiled. I left the academic achievement in the box. My son is a smart, good kid and will be successful in anything he decides to do. The father in me knows this. The dad in me knows that he will only be truly happy with a good dose of “dude” in him. That’s why I like his “ordination” so much. The dad in me, passed down from my Dad, gave him the idea that being a dude is important. Dudes know how to do stuff and can decide and act. Dudes have good friends and good times. Dudes respond in times of crisis and times for fun. It may be the best thing I pass on to him.

In my special box of stuff, I also stumbled across an old Father’s Day card from my daughter. In the card she had written in her four year old chicken scratch, “Hapy Fathers Day. Dad. I love wen you play and dance and we laff. Love, Helena.” Playing, dancing and laughing are the best parts of a childhood and a life. The dad in me understands this and delivers. Like all dads everywhere.

So, this Father’s Day, I say THANK YOU to my Dad. He’s not around anymore. He passed away in 2002, but he lives each time I stomp in a puddle and dance in the mud or start the chainsaw for my son. Dads live forever in the lives of their kids. They live in the parts of them that don’t grow up; the parts that remain as children laughing at the old “pull my finger” game. Thanks for that, Pops…and everything else, too…

[EDITOR’S NOTE:”Feel Good Friday” is a regular column written by Des Moines resident Dave Markwell, who extols to all neighbors: “Enjoy where we live. Put your feet on the pavement and truly feel how great it is to live here!” Also, you can “friend” Dave on Facebook here. Or work out with him at his new exercise company Waterland CrossFit!]

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