In the United States and many other countries, this Sunday is Father’s Day. The brainchild of Hallmark or some other greeting card company a century or so ago, and entirely commercial from its inception, the day has become iconic. Millions of Americans from coast to coast will get together with family if they can, barbecuing, exchanging cards and gifts, and generally honoring the men who gave them life.

For most Americans, Father’s Day is a happy occasion. If you haven’t bought a card or gift yet, a phone call on the day itself (before ten or eleven pm, please) will sometimes suffice.

But many of us don’t have that option. For many of us, Father’s Day is a day we look forward to with tears in our eyes.

My tears decided not to wait for the big day itself. This morning, browsing my Facebook feed, I ran across the following video:

(OK, it’s not loading. It’s a one-minute video that shows a crowd of people on the beach with about five large airline kennels. The kennel doors are opened, and a young elephant seal emerges from each one, looks around, and then makes its way into the sea. As the last one heads into the waves, there’s applause from the spectators. It’s very touching.)

My father lived in Malibu, on Point Dume, mere steps from Paradise Cove, where this video was shot. We fished from the pier you see in the video clip, and once took a deep-sea fishing trip that embarked from there. I grew up riding my horse on that beach.

As I watched the video, with every frame, my vision grew a little blurrier and I slid farther and farther back in time until I was ten years old, scavenging in the Paradise Cove tide pools at low tide:

me paradise cove age nine

You can just see the Paradise Cove pier in the background.

Everything about Malibu–the beach, the sand, the tides, the wind, the salty air–is about my dad, who taught me to be independent and self-sufficient, to revere family, to be fascinated by history, philosophy, poetry, and science, and to never be afraid to try something that only boys were supposed to be able to do. My dad was awesome. Here I am with him when I was three:

dad and me, 1962

My father passed away in 2003. This will be the ninth Father’s Day I haven’t been able to hear his voice resonating across the two-thousand-mile distance I now so regret having put between us when I chose to make a life in Wisconsin. Of course I still hear it in my mind—I can imagine what we might say, if I could call him, and I can still hear his voice as if we had spoken only yesterday–but it’s not the same.

Others struggle with Father’s Day for other reasons. Perhaps there’s been a family feud of some kind, and you and your father are no longer speaking.

If, like me, you’ll spend Sunday missing and celebrating the life of a man you can no longer call on the phone (for whatever reason), you understand the bittersweet nature of Father’s Day.

But for millions of others, the day continues to be what it was meant to be: Commercial, yes, but for once, commercial in a good way. My eldest son will celebrate his very first Father’s Day this weekend, his son having just been born in March. And my youngest son will also be a father before the year is out.


The Circle of Life must continue, with all of the love and hate and pain and grief and joy that accompany it. Father’s Day is a day of contrasts.

So I wish a Happy Father’s Day to all of you dads out there, but especially to my own dad, and also to my sons, with whom the cycle now begins anew and for whom it will continue until their own little sea lions swim out to sea.

How do you celebrate Father’s Day? Is it a happy day for you, or a difficult one?