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The Zeus of the House

June 15, 2003

When you first meet them, consciously anyway, fathers seem so big. That's too small a word, of course, for those massive creatures who deign to lean way down where your childish face is looking way up. And their hands! They're immense, like platters if you knew what a platter was. Those hands would come in and wrap around your arms -- all the way around your spindly arms. And they'd lift you seemingly without effort higher than you'd ever been, up by the hanging light in the dining room. And they'd toss you. And bounce you. And, deliciously scariest of all, swing you around the yard faster than your suddenly enlarged eyes could scan. He'd put you down when Mother suggested your arms would soon come off. And you'd wobble toward Dad's knees repeating one word, "More. More. More."

In the end, it seems now many Father's Days later, it's not really the big things that make the big guy loom so large in life -- or memory. Not the cars or school tuitions, not the lectures laden with experience and meaning. It's the accumulation of small, even tiny things that the family Zeus did daily that go unremarked at the time but obviously get recorded somehow in the young memory bank. Like getting up early one summer weekday to quietly -- and magically -- repair a wounded tricycle before heading off to work, alone. Being the bucking horse for every little guest at the birthday party. Shaking hands every night on his return from work, until the child's handshake was sufficiently firm. Or lowering the newspaper to answer the unanswerable: "Where did Grandpa go when he died?"

Moms too are wondrous, often soft, cooing, accepting, patient. And both parents are sturdy; they must be to survive pregnancy and childbirth together.

But fathers are different. Maybe because we don't expect bulldozers to go around a single flower. When that big hand reaches for yours to cross the street, it's a big deal. When he suggests a day at the game, it's huge, a celebrity like that investing his full day and attention on a small one, who might then begin to sense his or her worth. When at a family dinner he mutters a wisecrack so only the child can hear, and then winks to seal the shared secret. Or on family vacation when the specific activities blur into oblivion over time, but not the vivid image of Dad being around all day every day.

Those are the little memories that are around all day every day on Father's Days like this. And any of the 364 days between.

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