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My concept of fatherhood has expanded over the years

A strange thing has happened to Father’s Day, and to fatherhood, as I’ve made progressively more trips around the sun.

The whole concept is more, and bigger, than it used to be for me.

Maybe you’ve had a similar awareness.

For me, there was a time when Father’s Day was for my dad, Ralph, the man who was everything a father can be.

Then, somewhere along the way, the concept of Father’s Day grew for me. It began to include another father — Gene, my second oldest brother. I became more and more cognizant that when he was a teenager, Gene held the family together after our mother died too young.

Together, Gene and Ralph are the epitome to me of Real Men in the best sense of the term. They were men who stood tall for you when you really needed them.

Next, Father’s Day grew to include fathers-in-law, especially my own. He was a great guy, not a big talker, but always there for you.

Eventually, Father’s Day and fatherhood came to include me. David. Father of Kara. Then father of Kirsten.

I loved being their dad. Still do.

Loved changing their diapers, then getting “butterfly kisses” from fluttering little eyelashes.

Loved watching them grow and walk and run and become beautiful girls and beautiful women and beautiful human beings.

Loved making discoveries with them. Santa Claus, Jul Nisse, the Tooth Fairy and the Creator of All.

Loved camping and hiking and canoeing and skiing with them.

Loved going to their fast-pitch softball games, swim meets, orchestra concerts, awards ceremonies … well you get the idea.

In time, Father’s Day came to include grandfathers, including me.

Thus, Father's Day and fatherhood included the fathers of my amazing, funny, lovable grandchildren. I love the men who love and cherish and honor my daughters.

The expansion of Father’s Day and fatherhood in my understanding was a natural progression. I didn’t actually realize it was happening.

Then a most surprising thing happened. I never saw it coming.

Father’s Day came to include awareness of a father who unexplainably abandoned a little boy and his sister before they could acquire any memory of him.

My wife, Clover, helped me to see that I needed to know the story of this man because, as she put it, his story is part of my story.

Until that moment, I really had no interest in my birth father. Zero. Zip.

Maybe you or people close to you have had a similar internal conflict. For me, it helped enormously when I learned via the wonder of the Internet that my birth father had long since passed away. This made it safe for me to dig deeply and make discoveries about him.

In doing so, I also discovered some of my own American pioneer roots and heritage. I found people back there in my DNA who are real, who are admirable, and who passed on to me little-known and little-understood characteristics and qualities. Maybe some quirks, too.

Ferreting out a missing-in-action birth father’s story didn’t change who I am — the person that my family and many mentors had helped me to become.

But somehow, knowing more of his story gives me a fuller picture of me: son, father, grandfather, member of communities, citizen of the world.

And so on Father’s Day, I celebrate Ralph and Gene, who were brothers and also everything that a father can be. I celebrate grandfathers going back generations in time — people who are now knowable and real to me.

And I better understand a man who left his son with strangers in a faraway place. I guess I better understand me, too.

And so I wonder: Whom do you celebrate and honor? How big is your circle of fatherhood and Father’s Day?

David Workman, a former News Tribune reporter, editor and columnist, is the author of a new nonfiction book on Amazon.com. “Letter from Alabama” is the story of strangers who saved a child and changed a family. He resides in Thurston County with his wife, Clover.

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