The fathers in our lives

Last Sunday, of course, was Father’s Day. I spent the weekend on a retreat with more than 50 other men at a Bible camp on a small lake just a few minutes from my home town. I have so many memories of berry picking with my grandmother and Aunt Ida, at that location … but that is for another column for another time.

Naturally being in the company of men, over Father’s Day Weekend, got me to thinking of the role of men and the importance of fathers and father figures.

The men on the retreat, and those facilitating, came from varied backgrounds. There were college professors, high school teachers, retired military, entrepreneurs, iron miners, construction workers and many more. But despite our diverse background, we all had at least one thing in common: We wanted to be better men and to make a positive impact on our lives and the lives of others.

The situation caused me to recall moments of my past and the men who influenced me. My relationship with my father, who passed away three years ago, was complicated, at best, and this is not the time or place to get into that.

There were, however, a handful of men who were “father figures” or at least role models who greatly impacted me.

His official name was Dr. James L. Rapport, but to the decades of students he touched as director of speech at Northern Michigan University, he was simply “Daddy Bear.” He was the most wonderful, funny, caring and generous person I have ever met. To paraphrase a Jack Nicholson line, he made me want to be a better person. For whatever reason, I was special to him, heck, we all were, but there was something about me that touched him. He called me “The Rock Flash.” I don’t know why but I took it as if it were a blessing … and it was. I had invited him to an event once, not expecting him to show up. When he arrived I expressed my surprise. He took my face in his hands and said, “I get invited to a lot of these. Most I don’t go to, but there’s some I just have to. This is one I have to because I love you.” I don’t think hitting the Powerball could have made me feel better than I did at that moment.

Peter D. Adamini and Dick Hanson were men I worked with on several occasions at Players De Noc Community Theatre in Escanaba. Both were directors, mentors and friends. What struck me about both of these men was the fact they never looked at my flaws but only positives.

As directors, they both cast me in roles that nobody else would have dared.

For Peter I played a sixty-something religious leader with a black heart. Pretty beefy role, and I was just 19-years-old. That’s how much faith he had in me.

Dick cast me in the lead of a Neil Simon comedy, and let’s face it, I hardly looked like a romantic lead. When I expressed concern that I was cast against type, and the role was out of my league, he laughed and said “that’s why they call it acting.”

What made these men so influential to me was that they believed in me. Pretty significant stuff when you grew up in an environment dedicated to highlighting shortcomings.

While their memories surrounded me at my retreat, I was also struck with the thought that, hopefully, I have become someone else’s Daddy Bear.

Since my time here in the Keweenaw, I have coached a variety of youth sports, taught Sunday school, been involved in 4-H and a host of other youth activities.

I hope I learned enough from my mentors to pass along to my children, grandchildren and others the importance of showing each of them how special they are.

The three father figures I have mentioned are all gone now. But their legacy of love still lives in me and I hope I’ve been able to pass that legacy to another generation.