Father’s Day is my favorite holiday. Not so much for the extra attention or gifts to unwrap (though I’m grateful for those), but for the annual reminder of the three people who most fulfill me: my wife and our two daughters. (My wedding anniversary is a few days before Father’s Day, making June a premium month in my house.) Perhaps I’d be marching steadily past life’s mile-markers had I chosen to go solo. But that’s a world I can no more imagine now than I could a tour of Saturn’s rings.
I’m fortunate in that I’ve lived in several very different parts of the world: east Tennessee, Atlanta, Italy, Southern California, Vermont, Boston. But I’ve only been a father here in Memphis. And I’ve come to relish seeing my daughters (now 17 and 13) grow in a city that has helped shape them distinctively. Wherever they go, whatever impact they make . . . they’ll do so as Memphians.
There are places I associate with Father’s Day — and more generally with raising my children — that cannot be matched anywhere else. The Memphis Zoo has been ranked among the country’s finest for years, and my children have seen the institution evolve into a more animal-friendly home for creatures we must understand and love if we’re to properly fit on this planet. The current debate over zoo parking — and how much of Overton Park can or should be used for such — is a new, distinct lesson on how we properly fit.
AutoZone Park is one of the two or three finest minor-league baseball stadiums in the country. My daughters have memories of waving to Jon Jay in centerfield . . . and Jay waving back. One shook St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny’s hand during the team’s visit in 2014, the other had a ticket stub autographed by Kolten Wong before he took over second base up the river at Busch Stadium. If it takes a village to raise children, a ballpark provides the breathing space.
Then there’s the river. I remind my children when we picnic at Tom Lee Park or Harbor Town’s Greenbelt Park that they can have pictures taken there — selfies! — that can’t be duplicated anywhere else on earth. At their current ages, they nod and reluctantly agree to pose with their dad. The day will come, though, when Old Man River holds deeper meaning and memories for my girls, some of those memories with their actual old man.
My children have seen The Tempest performed (by the Tennessee Shakespeare Company) outdoors at Shelby Farms, Romeo and Juliet at The Dixon Gallery and Gardens. They’ve heard the William Tell Overture played by the Memphis Symphony Orchestra on the banks of that great river. They’ve strolled Beale Street, shaken a leg at Sun Studio, and paused with compassion at Graceland’s reflection garden. My daughters have grown up in Memphis. They also get Memphis.
The Bluff City has provided a cultural setting I could not have imagined as a child, even with all my family’s travels. Each of my daughters has been in classrooms, at parties, at social gatherings in which she was a minority. They’ve read books on ethnicities, beliefs, and religions different from their own, and their education on the value of diversity has been an everyday life injection, one that has them more curious — and importantly, more tolerant — than I was at their ages. Makes a father swell with pride.
So here’s to Father’s Day in Memphis, and to all dads who cherish their children as I do. Find your special place (or places), wherever you call home. Relish the moments with your children, regardless of life stage. And embrace the place (or places) you share with them.