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  Luke's Fathers Day  
  Sharon Dunn  

Luke has been looking forward to Father's Day for a long time now. His card is carefully painted and signed, and he's got a long list of plans for the big day. Luke is always taking about his dad, but especially around Father's Day.

"Mom, remember that long hike Dad and I took through the forest? We were gone all day, and you were so worried we were lost." "Oh Luke", I say, "you were only three then. How can you remember that hike?" But he does remember.

Luke and his dad were always together, fishing, hiking, planting in the garden - days that Luke loves to recall. I guess it's not that unusual for a nine-year-old to be so crazy about his dad, but Luke's dad died in a car accident ore than five years ago.

Who would have thought that a three-year-old would not only remember, but cherish, the short time he and his dad had together? Everyone told me Luke would forget - but everyone was wrong. Nobody stopped to think about that larger-than-life bond between father and son.

I have watched as Luke's mind adapted to life without a dad. But Father's Day is still a big challenge.

I thought I had licked the problem years ago with my Band-Aid solution called Brother's Day. The boys exchanged gifts and went to Canada's Wonderland - whatever it took to escape the real meaning of the day. "Brilliant," I thought at the time. but Brother's Day came to a crashing halt last year when Luke announced: "Mom, other kids don't celebrate Brothers Day - it's really Father's Day." He assumed I simply didn't know. Why else would I ignore Father's Day.

Luke also confided that he had overheard some kids in school whispering that Luke would have nothing to do on Father's Day, since he had no dad.

At first i was angry at those kids. but then I realized I was as guilty as thy were, since five years earlier i had taken the "father" out of Luke's Father's Day, hoping to dave him from the hurt and pain.

"But I want to celebrate Father's Day", Luke said, and I realized that my little boy was growing up.

it was so much easier to deal with the toddler who said the funniest things in his attempts to understand the situation. At his father's funeral, he'd indignantly noted that something was missing. "Where's Dad", he mused. "Why isn't he here? I thought he'd be at his own funeral."

I remembered the little boy who, greeting his friend shortly after his dad died, yelled: "Kathleen, Kathleen! You won't believe what happened! My hamster dies and so did my dad."

"What happened to the hamster?", Kathleen relied.

The hamster was quickly forgotten, but not Luke's dad. There were always signs that his dad was on Luke's mind.

At a party one day, Luke blurted out, "My dad's dead..." All conversation stopped as embarrassed guests looked toward Luke. I gulped. "...but my mom's realllly alive!" He'd saved the moment, and since then, I've tried to live up to his description.

For a while, whenever the phone rang, Luke would yell, "I'll bet it's Dad!" One Christmas Eve when Santa - my dad - called to talk to the kids, LUke hung up on him saying, "I can't believe that Santa didn't put Dad on the phone." I guess in a little boy's mind, Santa's workshop is as close to heaven as you can get.

But those days were long gone. Luke isn't that little boy anymore. The easy Band-aid solutions don't work. So what to do about Father's Day? Well, since Luke has decided to celebrate Father's Day, we will be doing what he wants to do, what everyone else will be doing: honoring Dad.

And I think that it's time for Luke's classmates to realize what his mom has finally figure out, something Luke has known all along: Luke does have a father, a wonderful father who's alive and well and living in a little boy's heart.

reprinted in The Reader's Digest,
June 2001.

© 2000 by Sharon Dunn,
distributed by New York Times Special Features

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