The Perfect, Timeless Father’s Day Gift

  by Dan Wolgemuth

The picture in my mind is vivid and unfaded. No yellowing to this snapshot. It was February of 2002 and I was about to enter the Morton’s Steakhouse that is located in Crown Center in Kansas City. I was working for General Electric at the time and the specific business unit I worked for was located in Overland Park, Kansas. The business dinner I was attending was important, professionally significant even, but I had a phone call to make; a conversation to engage in.

I stood outside the restaurant looking across a grassy courtyard, my ears tuned to the fragile and disconnected words of my father. Sam Wolgemuth was dying. Although he was five hundred miles away, our voices hugged even as our hearts embraced.

I stumbled through a few awkward questions. Weakness and vulnerability radiated through every syllable he spoke. Grace (my mom) was at his side, along with several other family members who lived in the Chicago area… but for me, a cell phone had to do.  I knew; we all knew; Sam knew that his days on earth were evaporating.

The fragmented conversation concluded as I offered a short prayer… for peace, for comfort, for hope. Then, spontaneously, words erupted from my grieving soul. “I love you, Dad.” A short pause followed, a wave of emotion flowed, and then Sam, my dad, through broken fragments of words echoed back the last words I ever heard him say, “I love you, Dan.”

The singular gift of words. Authentically earned and sincerely communicated, words can ring in the ears of our soul for decades, and beyond.

Within days he was gone. A victim of a failing body.

I was 46 years old when Sam died. In that final conversation I had with him he failed to mention any of the Father’s Day gifts that I had given him over the years. No, the only gift that mattered were the words that lingered through the life we had shared together.

Words + Father’s Day.

A combination filled with possibilities.

As I think back on my own 36 Father’s Days, a lasting gift rings in my heart. Words.

Buried in the haze of a crayon-laced picture… scribbled names. Barely legible, but engraved on my soul. Andrew, then Erik, then Alli. Years later, marriage would embed Chrissy, and Kendal, and Chris on my soul as well. These are my kids. My dadcraft inventory.

Tucked in a drawer in my office are a small, but significant sampling of the most valuable gifts they have given me (not counting grandchildren!), their words. Notes. Emails. Hallmark cards that are simply the canvas on which they write their own blessing, their own reflection, their own tender tribute.

Father’s Day. Gifting gridlock.

My simple, time-tested recommendation is to save a trip to the local sporting goods store. To resist the hottest dad gift on Amazon. To avoid a gift card from Starbucks… and to give your kids the opportunity to use words as their gift this Father’s Day.

Help them. Guide them. But unleash them.

My favorite thing to do with Dad is ______________________________________________.

I love seeing my Dad do ______________________________________________________.

My Dad laughs the hardest when ________________________________________________.

If my Dad were a superhero he would be ___________________________________________.

Because I want my Dad to know that I love him, I’m going to _____________________________.

Of course, there’s frosting you can put on this beautiful cake made out of words: breakfast in bed; a Sunday nap, a fabulous t-shirt; an ageless tie, cupcakes… but make no mistake, they are just frosting.

Words.

From a seasoned dadcraft dad… make words the gift you give. Lavish them. Create with them. Say them. Write them. Act them out. Spell them creatively, but use them.

Until he can’t hear them any more, say them with all your heart. And always, always say what you think goes without saying…

“I love you, Dad.”

Frosting recipe:

  • For some creative ideas for Father’s Day “frosting” buy the necessary ingredients for a science experiment.
  • Use a pancake pen to write some of the words that best describe your dadcraft dad.
  • Find a great new board game to do together.
  • Watch a movie and talk about the words that describe the relationships in the story.
  • Pick a hike and make it an adventure.