Today is my first Father’s Day without a father.

A family friend told me recently that “nobody likes Father’s Day.” But he’s Serbian, and the Serbian Father’s Day tradition involves children tying up their dads and beating them until he gives them presents. It makes sense that my friend, as a parent who has been subjected to this tradition, is less than fond of Father’s Day.

My dad loved Father’s Day, mostly because he loved being a father. And the only thing he ever wanted for Father’s Day was the same thing he wanted every year for his birthday: homemade cards from his kids. (With at least three colors.)

He kept every single one. Sorting through the tote bags of treasures he left behind – some junk, some not – I can trace the evolution of my artistic skills (or lifelong lack of them) as the cards went from scribbled crayon to geometric colored pencil sketches to actual illustrations with markers (when my mother finally deemed me trustworthy enough to not draw on the walls with them). There is still a card taped to his bedroom mirror. My sister made it when she was 9 or 10. On the front, it says: “Congratulations, you are a way better dad than Darth Vader.” Can you get a higher compliment?

This is the first Father’s Day in as long as I can remember for which I will not be drawing a card.

Being a parent seems like an incredibly difficult undertaking, one that involves constant balancing acts. You have to give a child their independence while keeping them safe from harm. Discipline them without traumatizing them. Educate without droning. Help them to learn from your wisdom and mistakes while allowing them to develop their own personalities. Set them up for success without making yours love for them dependent on it.

My dad walked the line and never wobbled. He didn’t care about the grades we got in school as long as we could look him in the eye and tell him that we “gave an A in effort.” When I was having trouble learning my times tables in third grade, he would drill me with flashcards every evening. I hated it at the time, obviously, but now I can do minor mental multiplication. Score: Dad – 1, Victoria – 0. In fifth grade, I made the honor roll, and he was so overjoyed that he stopped the car in the middle of the street, got out and did his “happy dance” right there in the road. (It was a quiet residential area, for those of you who read that and worried about traffic.)

I was watching an old home video the other day. My dad is holding the camera, and my mom is sitting next to me on a bench. I’m about 15 months old. I am making toddler-y noises and gestures that indicate I want to get down from the bench. Mom reaches over, intending to pick me up and put me on the ground. “Wait, Julia!” Dad says. “Let her try. I think she’s almost got it.”

Baby-me seems to realize that she needs to twist her body around, brace with her hands and push her knees off the bench to safely dismount, but her fine motor skills aren’t really up to snuff yet. I’ve got my hands positioned correctly but can’t seem to move my knees and hips together, and I start making dolphin-like noises of distress.

Mom moves toward me again. “No, wait, swing her knee around, just her knee,” Dad says from behind the camera. Mom lifts my right knee over my left leg, and with that assist, I successfully dismount the bench and land on my feet with all the precision of a gymnast. I stand on my own. My parents clap. This scene played out in under 30 seconds and perfectly sums up my dad’s parenting style.

I had my dad for exactly 25 years, from the day I was born (Sept. 12, 1992) until the day he died (Sept. 12, 2017). He was not a perfect parent, but he was the best father I could have asked for, and he always (always) gave an A in effort.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad. Sorry I didn’t make you a card this year. I wrote you a column instead.

Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: mainemillennial

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