Most Father’s Days come and go without much fanfare, taking an understandable backseat to Mother’s Day the month before. But this year Father’s Day lingered for me, despite my being more than a thousand miles distant from my two grown sons, who live in Florida and are fathers themselves.

And damn good fathers they are, and that fact got me reflecting on the whole fatherhood thing. I loved being their dad, from birth to babies to boys. But I wasn’t a day-to-day dad after their mother and I divorced when our kids were still young and they moved from Massachusetts to Florida, where my wife had family. Overnight I became “Vacation Dad.”

I moved to Maine when my boys were preteens, and though I know they enjoyed their annual summer visits (Miss Portland Diner, Aquaboggan Water Park), my time with them was so short that I also knew I had little parental influence on them during their critical growing-up years.

In Florida they had a great mother and eventually a committed stepdad. They grew up on a farm and had maternal uncles and cousins and grandparents around. They had a good life, but it was mostly separate from mine. I watched them grow up from a vast distance, as if spying on them from the reverse end of a telescope. They seemed so small, so far away.

I also became a stepdad to my wife’s son and daughter, but they were older and didn’t need another father, so I grew close to them in other ways. I became a grandparent to Sara’s two children, and John and I shared football and politics.

Today my elder son, Matt, has two children, a boy and a girl, and my younger son, Russell, is the proud papa of five kids, with girls on each end of the age spectrum and three boys in between. I have the great pleasure of watching my guys parent when they visit Maine, or my wife and I escape to Florida in the winter. One son is a disciplinarian, the other more laid back. Completely different parenting styles, but both excellent parents.

I’m so proud of them. I’d like to take some credit, but I can only marvel at the commitment, patience, devotion and love they provide every day to their children. The kind of parent I hope I would have been for them, had more of our lives been spent together. The best I can hope for now is to be a good grandparent, an easy assignment. Grandparenting is one of the few things in life that lives up to the hype: deeply rewarding and a lot of fun.

I guess there are worse things than being “Vacation Dad” and “New Grandpa” (my family title, being the last grandparent the Florida grandkids got to know). So, when I got that Father’s Day phone call this year, I felt extra blessed that my kids stuck with me, and then bested me in the parenting department. And the feeling lingers.

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