A woman fortunate enough to have had a good father is a woman as lucky as an heiress.

Even if in his will, her father cannot leave her a dime, she accumulates riches vast and secure enough to help her through the toughest parts of life.

The official "Father's Day" was never a big deal in our house because my father didn't think good money should be spent on cheap cards when homemade ones were so much nicer. If you accepted that theory--and we did-- there was no reason at all not to make homemade cards all the time. Adding to my skepticism about the date on the calendar, my husband Michael discovered when doing research for a course on fatherhood that Richard Nixon declared Father's Day a bone-fide holiday. It's somehow less than sacred for all sorts of reasons.

But it is a good reminder and I'll take whatever hints the universe offers. Good reminders, after all, might well have significant echoes.

That's why I'd like to add to the celebration of fathers. I offer a tug on the sleeve to say this: bottles of whiskey or wine, sweatshirts with logos, leatherette c.d.-holders, cigars, and books about military history do not cover our debt to our dads.

Not when the portraits of fathers in this country leave so much to be desired.

What bothers me most is the "Dad-as-moron" portrayal, the one you find in most sit-coms and cartoons.

What do we see in this version? Fathers who hold babies as if they are holding a leg-of-lamb; fathers who think of their children as aliens; fathers who can't hold a job or a conversation, rescued from total fooldom only by their eldest kid or female companion. Dads who make Hannibal Lecter look like a nice guy.

(Father-as-monster is, of course, the oldest of the available stereotypes, but since there is an equal and balanced set of mom-as-monster versions, I think those are safely left out of the equation and off the map.)

Not all families are the same--I know this all too well, having heard stories of terrible times from good friends, friends who swear that all they owe their fathers is a slap in the face. And yet I have come to believe that we learn differently from the mothers and the fathers in our lives, whether we are born to them or choose them in some more deliberate manner.

Fathers are not the tame creatures mothers are; they are more forbidding and more demanding. They play by public rules. Not for them the erasure of wrongdoing or the sidestepping of a boundary.

If your mother teaches you how to love, then your father gives you permission to succeed; if learn from your mother how to walk carefully around trouble, then it is from your father that you learn how to face trouble when it comes.

I'm not talking about a father who teaches you how to shout or shoot down your enemies. That kind of courage can be taught cheap. I'm not talking about the courage to face death, but the courage to face life.

We learn lessons when life assigns them.

I speak with the authority of an heiress myself; I had one of those good fathers.

My mother died when I was sixteen and my father assumed the task of raising a rebellious, hurt, smart-mouthed teenager. Neither he nor my mother had graduated from high school, and yet my father challenged me to get every degree I could and made sure I learned to support myself (even though he continued to believe, when I was promoted to full professor, that teaching three days a week meant I was working part-time). He made me laugh, took me seriously, took life lightly, and made me feel proud of our family.

"Go get ‘em" my father used to say to me and I do, Dad, I still do--or at least I try. In my heart and in print, I want to say, once again, just in case he can still pick up the message: thanks, Dad.

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