Issue # 15
June 30, 2000
My Favorite Dads
By Rich Wilhelm

Father’s Day is a few weeks behind us now, but I’m still thinking about Dads. Specifically, I’m thinking about some of my favorite Dads.

Sometimes it seems like Bad Dads are everywhere. Usually, the evening news features some kind of Bad Dad. Movies and television shows feature good dads, but the Bad Dads seem to get more publicity. You’re still more likely to hear "Papa Was a Rolling Stone" or "Cats In The Cradle" on the radio than any song about a good dad. As a matter of fact, it’s hard to think of a song about a good dad. If you think of one, let me know.

Part of the reason for this is that Good Dads, much like Good Moms, are too busy getting on with the business of being decent parents to launch massive publicity campaigns for themselves. Which is a shame, because Good Dads (and Moms, of course) sometimes need a pat on the back. They’re doing important work.

I’d now like you to meet some of my favorite Dads. I’m going to begin with six friends of mine who are dads, listed chronologically from when I met them. The funny thing about these guys is that only two of them actually know each other, but they all know of each other. In fact, I’ve discovered over the last few years a chain of coincidences that links these guys with me and with each other. Of course, the coincidences don’t mean anything, but to me they serve as proof that I didn’t meet any of these men by accident. The year I met them is in parentheses. And, just for fun, I’ve listed some of the coincidences in brackets at the end of a few of the dads’ descriptions.

Matt W. (1986)—Maddy and Hayden’s Dad. Matt and I have known each other since college. His and Sue’s daughter, Madelyn, was born on our fifth wedding anniversary, a few weeks before Jimmy was born. The great thing about my friendship with Matt is that the changes in life we’ve each gone through (marriage, home ownership, children, etc) have been very easily absorbed into our friendship, allowing it to become both deeper and wider in the process.

Eric (1995)—Luke and Julian’s Dad. Eric and I got to know each other after meeting on a business trip in Norfolk, Virginia. When we met up again in New Orleans in October of 1996, he was the proud father of a seven-month-old boy and I was contemplating the idea that, if all went well, I’d be a dad within the next year. He and I had some great conversations that week and I returned from New Orleans with a little more reassurance that I could be a dad than I had when I arrived there. Our friendship has continued to grow and, although it hasn’t happened yet, someday our complete families will meet. [Eric and Matt W. both told me the same story about how much of an effect hearing the same R.E.M. song live had on them. Also, Matt lives in the same town as Eric’s sister-in-law, which is really weird because neither Eric nor his wife, Tatiana, are from anywhere around that particular town.]

Mark (1997)—Chris and Jen’s step-dad.
Kevin (1997)—Haley, Emily, Olivia and Ivy’s Dad.
Mark and Kevin and I met in a completely Late-20th-Century way—via computer. Our early friendships happened completely online, during long chat sessions in which we talked about practically everything. These sessions happened while Donna was pregnant with Jimmy so fatherhood was weighing heavily on my mind at the time. We’ve since broken through the computer screens to meet face-to-face. In fact, knowing Mark and Kevin has given me the opportunity to have great conversations with someone while camping in New Jersey and driving through New York City (Mark) and while driving down Rodeo Drive in Los Angeles and while sitting on a small cliff several hundred feet over the Pacific Ocean (Kevin).

Matt G. (1998)—Aleah, Mitchell and Nathan’s Dad. I met Matt after Donna met his wife, Lisa, through a church group. Matt is just an all-around decent man and a fun guy to hang around with. We always find a lot to talk about when our families get together. Matt is also quite adept at home repair (which was a great help to us when Jimmy locked us out of our bedroom) and, of all these dads, he’s got the most recent arrival, Nathan, who was born just a few weeks ago. [Matt G. and Matt W. were born on exactly the same day. In exactly the same year.]

Pat (1998)—Ryan’s Dad. We started taking Jimmy to church when he was around three or four months old. Pat, who attends the same church as us, began to notice that we seemed to be doing OK bringing a baby to church, so he started to bring Ryan, who is just less than three months younger than Jimmy. Then we noticed Pat and Ryan and eventually began to say hello to them after mass. Before too long, Pat and Ryan and Jimmy and me were meeting for playdates in the park. The kids didn’t interact at all at first (they were way too young for that) but now Jimmy and Ryan are best buddies. Pat and I have become very good friends and, although he and I have never really talked about this, I love the fact that our friendship can be a model for our sons’ friendship. [Pat and I are almost exactly the same age apart as Jimmy and Ryan. Pat and I had exactly the same SAT score. No, I’m not going to tell you what that score was.]

Reading over this list, I can’t believe how fortunate I have been to meet six other men in approximately the same place in their lives as I am in mine, all of whom have become excellent friends to me. Besides, that, all of them are great Dads. It’s almost enough to make me get sappy, but I’ll save the sappiness for my own Dad. I will say that what I’ve learned about fatherhood and friendship from Matt, Eric, Mark, Kevin, Matt and Pat has been enormous. Thanks, guys!

My All Time Favorite Dad is my own father, Jim Wilhelm. Like a lot of fathers and adult sons, Dad and I aren’t the most physically demonstrative guys, but I think our feelings toward each other are clear. At recent Sunday dinners, Dad has occasionally mentioned that he feels like he was not around for my sister, Lisa, and me as much as he might have been. Lisa and I always refute this immediately and tell him that it’s not how we remember growing up at all. I think my Dad has heard that awful "Cats in the Cradle" song too many times. But, just in case Dad isn’t quite convinced, I’ve come up with a list of some of my favorite Dad moments.

  1. Sitting with me and my globe—Although I do not remember this, back when I was a toddler, my dad worked third shift from 11:00 p.m. until 7:00 in the morning. When he’d arrive home, I’d just be getting up, and I would drag this globe out to the kitchen. Dad would sit with me and tell me the names of the countries as I pointed to them. I think these sessions, plus my stamp collecting years, have given me a better than average foundation in geography knowledge.

  2. Watching Batman together—Again, this is not something I remember, but my dad and I used to watch the old ‘60s Batman television show together. BIFF! POW! I equate this to Jimmy and me watching The Simpsons together, which we have done often.

  3. Cub Scouts—I really enjoyed cub scouts, and both my mom and dad played a big part in my scouting years. Dad and Mom were the co-leaders of my scouting den one year, and Dad was one of three co-leaders for my den the last year I was in scouts. Probably the highlight of those times was when I won the Pinewood Derby race with a little wooden car my dad built. We painted the car a cool metallic purple color and it was aerodynamically fabulous.

  4. Seeing the Manhattan / Walking across the Commodore Barry Bridge—A few weeks after my sister was born in the summer of 1969, the largest icebreaking ship in the world at the time, the Manhattan, sailed down the Delaware River not far from our home on its way to go break some ice in Alaska. We went down to the river to check it out. A few years later, when the Commodore Barry Bridge opened in Chester, we took another trip down to the river to walk across the newly opened bridge, which was one of the longest cantilever bridges in the world at the time. For no particular reason, these just strike me as very cool memories.

  5. Taking me to see The Elephant Man—When I was in high school I was assigned to review the David Lynch movie, The Elephant Man, for the school newspaper. Dad took me to the Media Theater (where we’d seen a few other "classics" like the updated King Kong and The Gong Show Movie). The Elephant Man was a great movie, though at the moment, I seem to remember more about The Gong Show Movie (unfortunately, the nude portrait of The Unknown Comic remains forever lodged in my mind). Anyway, years later, when Lynch introduced the world to Twin Peaks, Dad and I would sit in the darkened family room and soak up the quirky atmosphere of the show. Eventually I’d go out to watch Twin Peaks (my all-time favorite television show) with friends, but, thinking back, hanging out to watch it with Dad was actually more fun.

  6. Outdoor barbecues—My dad was the Hibachi King and he taught me the secrets of Hibachi. Since both my sister and I have summer birthdays, our family perfected the art of the backyard barbecue.

  7. Travel—I’ve got great memories of family road tripping. Our destinations were usually Cape May, New Jersey for beach trips; Mt. Savage, Maryland to visit Grandma Wilhelm (that would be Grandma Great Wilhelm to you, Jimmy); and Fredericksburg, Virginia to see our cousins. On these trips, my natural love of American history was enriched with trips to Civil War battlefields, presidential homes and whatever else happened to be along the way. Two trips that will always stand out featured those Fredericksburg Wilhelms—our 1975 trip to Williamsburg and our ’82 journey to Knoxville and Nashville. Yes, I did indeed attend the Knoxville World’s Fair.

  8. School projects (fermentation, planned city, etc)—Dad made wine for me once for a science fair project on fermentation. I think it was rice wine, not his famous dandelion wine (which, legend has it, is practically hallucinatory), but I’m sure it created quite a stir among the science fair judges anyway. Dad also was quite helpful when some classmates and I had to build a "planned city" out of plywood and common household objects. We named our city Mumford (after Louis Mumford who, I believe, came up with the idea of planned cities), and it was way cool.

  9. Sunday dinners—Sunday dinners with Dad have always been fun, though they’ve changed a lot through the years. When I was a kid, I remember going down to Grandma French’s for Sunday dinners fairly often. When we ate at home, I remember Dad spinning the radio dial to a "beautiful music" station for the proper Sunday Dinner music ambience circa 1973. Sometime in the early ‘80s, he changed the radio station to a country station, WDSD ("50,000 WATTS OF POWER! WDSD! DOVER-SMYRNA DELAWARE!") and dinner wasn’t officially over until we heard the Osbourne Brothers’ bluegrass classic "Rocky Top." These days Sunday dinners center around interesting conversation, good music, and my son, which leads me to my last two observations:

  10. Musical influence—Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Cream, Eric Clapton, bluegrass, blues, country: Dad was instrumental in introducing me to all of these artists and types of music. My dad and mom played music they liked around the house and I think that, because of that, both Lisa and I have gained an appreciation for all types of music.

  11. Rich, Dad & Jimmy
    Dad, Jimmy, and Rich—November 9, 1997
  12. Jimmy’s birth/Jimmy—My son, James Francis Wilhelm, is named after Dad. Jimmy thoroughly adores his "Pap Pap," and I believe the feeling is mutual. Seeing Jimmy together with Dad is a true joy.

Above all else, my father let me be myself. I don’t ever remember my dad pushing me to be just like him. He let me become my own person, which is obvious to anyone who knows both of us—we are two very different adults in many ways. Despite whatever differences we have, Dad and I still have very much in common, and in some ways I think I’m just now becoming a little bit more like him. I’ll occasionally say something to which Donna responds, "You sound just like your dad." I consider that to be a high compliment.

3-Generation Father's Day
Dad, Jimmy, and Rich—Father's Day 1999

So, Dad, thank you for everything! I love you (I told you I was going to get sappy). I figure that if I approach fatherhood with half of the love, humor, patience and fun that you have, I’ll consider myself a pretty good father.

(Please feel free to email to others who may be interested or to print hard copy for them but remember: The Dichotomy of the Dog is copyright 2000 by Rich Wilhelm. If you plan on making a bazillion dollars from this piece of writing,
please let me know so I can sue you or something.)