Sunday, June 19, 2022

It's Father's Day

and I don't have a father. I mean, I did have a father, but he died when I was barely out of first grade, so I didn't know him. I had a stepfather for seven years, but he wasn't what anyone would've called a father. I don't think of him on Father's Day. 

On Father's Day I think of other fathers. My husband, for example, who is an excellent father. And his father; also, a good parent. Being raised by a good parent probably leads to good parenting, but it's not a prerequisite. Thank goodness, or else how many of us would be in trouble?

As a kid who did not have a father, I was curious about them. Friends' dads. Neighbors. Uncles. But for the most part I didn't give them much of a thought. And then Father's Day would roll around and it was time to make a Father's Day card in school and you'd see commercials of men grilling and fishing and how you should buy your dear old dad a tie or cologne or whatever. For me those commercials may as well have been talking about space aliens. And sometimes it hurt to be reminded of what I didn't have and would never have. 

All of this is to say that I try to be mindful when it comes to kids and whatever their particular family arrangement is. But the other day my mindfulness went out the window. What happened is I was working at the desk at the library and a mom came in with two kids. 

This one, she said, gesturing at a boy around twelve years old and happily bookish-looking, isn't mine. He's a neighbor and he wants to check out books today but he doesn't have a library card. 

I sat up straight, eager, of course, to help, but explaining the unfortunate but necessary rule that while minors may apply for a library card, they've got to have a parent or guardian with them to finalize the deal. 

The kid's shoulders slumped. 

But hey, I said brightly, you can ask your mom to come back with you later, or tomorrow. Fill out the application online. It takes like, three minutes. 

And then I had a better idea. Maybe, I said to the kid, you have a library card already? Your mom might've gotten one for you when you were little? I can check the system for you. 

The kid looked anxious, but hopeful. He gave me his name and birthdate, and sure enough, there he was in the system! I don't know who was more excited about it, him or me. Come back up to the desk, I told him, when you've got your books and I'll check you out. You can ask your mom for the card when you get home and if she's not sure where it is, the next time you come in, I'll give you a new one. 

He nodded and headed down to the youth section, but the neighbor mother lingered at the desk. I thought she was going to compliment me on my quick thinking and expert management of the problem, but instead, she leaned in a little and lowered her voice. 

Not a big deal, she said, and he never would've told you himself, but he doesn't have a mom. He's got two dads. 

Oh! I said. 

Not a big deal, the woman said again. Just thought you might want to know. 

I do, I said. Thanks! But internally I was still wincing, scrambling back through the earlier conversation, all of my mentions of mom and why had I made that assumption and here we are at the library, a place that strives to be safe and welcoming to all.

When the boy came up later to check out his books, I was still feeling like a ding dong. I didn't want to say Dad this time or Dads because I didn't want him to know what his neighbor had shared with me. Twelve-year-olds, I know from experience, don't feel comfortable learning that adults have been chatting behind their backs, and who can blame them. Instead, I said what I say to all of the patrons who stop by my desk. 

Have a nice day!  

And I do hope he had one, has one. Odds are, he will. A kid with two dads on Father's Day. My childhood self would've been over the moon. 

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