All posts by Carol Robidoux

Professional writer, reporter, journalist, content creator, thinker, spark plug.

My Turn: A successful journey through the minefield of addiction

Screen shot 2014-10-15 at 6.59.06 AMMy son, at 23, is lucky to be alive.

Statistically, he is a member of a generation decimated by an opiate drug epidemic so far-reaching that in 2010 – the year he graduated high school – New Hampshire reported having a higher percentage of people abusing pain medication than any other state, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services. The largest demographic was young people age 17-25.

And it continues even now, an epidemic that has led directly to the resurgence of heroin, a drug that is a much cheaper and far more deadly alternative to painkillers.

I guess it should be a given at this phase of my life, but I am frankly overjoyed that my son is a senior at UNH, and that he’s managing his life, his money, his studies and his future so deftly. I slip him gas money when he visits and he takes it, reluctantly. He is acutely aware that his childhood is defunct, and that standing on his own two feet is the only way to move forward in this life.

I say he is lucky because, in the same way I’ve heard veterans of war wrestle with survivor’s guilt, I can’t quite understand how my son found his way out of enemy territory, mostly unscathed.

As a mother, I’ve been over it a hundred times or more, and still, there are no good or logical answers.

I only know that five years ago, I didn’t see much hope in his heart for the future. He was trapped in a high school where his big brain was overshadowed by his apathy for the rat race. He underachieved because he was mostly invisible to the educators who were there to help him find himself, obscured by his long hair and the space between academia and its relevance to his world.

Looking back now, I realize there was a sub-narrative to the plot I couldn’t see because it was written in the secret language of teenagers. Now I understand that my son’s apathetic Wonder Years coincided with the pharmaceutical phenomenon we are now recognizing as the pathway to opiate addiction.

Many of his peers – smart kids, dumb kids, athletic kids, kids from good families and fractured ones – dabbled with pot and alcohol, moving on to illicit encounters with cough syrup, LSD and the premier ADHD drug Adderall – which they learned quickly would help anyone focus enough to cram for a test and excel. It was easy enough to score from someone whose brother was diagnosed with an attention deficit disorder.

Better living through chemistry led many of these kids to discover oxycodone, another easily acquired pill dished out like candy to anyone with pain. Like Adderall, it was a magic pill that quickly boosted their adolescent spirits, or dulled the pain of their perceived losses – dads that were MIA., parents who didn’t engage, romances that didn’t materialize or economic realities that didn’t support brand-name fashions or top-of-the-line technology.

My son is one of the lucky ones because some primal lobe in his big brain lit up enough to guide the rest of him out of the darkness of dabbling that has swallowed too many of his peers whole.

If you’re reading this and judging these kids, or these families, who struggle every day with opiate addiction, you don’t know the half of it. You don’t know how many of your neighbors and co-workers continue to dance this exhausting tango with a diabolical partner that won’t let go, spiraling into the twirling, clutching drain of fatal desperation that robs them of their finances, their hopes and dreams, and, sometimes, their children.

New Hampshire lags far behind in addiction treatment. Ask anyone involved in the bureaucracy. They will confirm that it’s a problem we can’t solve through law enforcement. If you’re lucky enough to find your way to a treatment bed, five days of detox and 12 steps at a time for 28 days is a futile dance that does not add up to long-term recovery.

It only leads back to a revolving door of the most powerfully relentless addictive substance on earth, which is claiming those who otherwise may not have been prone to the disease of addiction.


Join the HOPE for Recovery Rally at NH Statehouse, Oct. 18, 2014, 11a.m. -2 p.m.


According to the state medical examiner’s office, although prescription drug-related deaths dropped between 2012 and 2013, from 88 to 72, heroin-related deaths have nearly doubled, from 37 in 2012 to 70 – and that’s just as of June.

This is more than unacceptable and should be at the top of our to-fix list, just as it was for Pete Shumlin, governor of Vermont, who scrapped the PowerPoint version of his 2014 State of the State speech to focus on just one topic: how to mount a counter-attack on the heroin and opiate addiction threatening his state.

My son and I don’t talk much about those we know who are still prisoners of this particular drug war, or those who died on the battlefield. He and his own two feet have moved on.

He has the right to judge them, I suppose. He has the right to despise the human weakness that prevails when someone gives up and gives in to an enemy that takes them over and delivers them into the belly of the beast.

I was happy to hear he was planning to stop by with his girlfriend after a birthday dinner for two out on the town. I decided to bake cupcakes, the chocolate-peanut butter ones I used to send to school with him for classroom celebrations of his youth – and not because I thought it would remind him that childhood is only lost to us if we choose to forget the dreams we dream and lessons we learn while we dwell there.

But because his life is my gift, his experience has been my teacher, his losses have left permanent scars on my heart – the heart of a mother who celebrates another year of hopes and dreams for a son who, for no reason I can put my finger on, didn’t get caught in the vice-grip death trap that is our opiate drug addiction epidemic.

And because I get to celebrate another year with my amazing son and light a birthday candle for all those mothers who can’t, and who never will again.

As published in the Concord Monitor, Oct. 10, 2014

(Carol Robidoux is a freelance writer who lives in Manchester.)

Of roots and serendipity: A genealogical trip to Germany ended the only way it could


In the strictest sense of the word, “adventure” translates from a combination of Latin words for “what must happen” and “to arrive,” which makes perfect sense in recalling my recent family adventure to Germany.

My father is first-generation American, born in Philadelphia in 1925. He was the joy of his mother’s new life. In the midst of the Great Depression, she died from cancer when Dad was just 12. She left him with an aching heart full of beautiful memories, which he’s managed to keep alive and share with the rest of us through the illustrated stories of his childhood that he’s penned.

For reasons I can’t explain, it took him another 76 years to follow through on his lifelong urge to know more about his roots.

So when Dad told me in December he wanted to take the whole family along for the ride, I was as elated as I was skeptical. He’s 88. His legs only work for about an hour at a time before he hobbles. He has been known to keel over for no obvious reason.

A month after he announced his desire to travel to the Fatherland as a party of nine, he fell and hit his head hard enough to make his brain bleed. But being a hard-headed German guy with unfinished business, he made a quick recovery and relented to the pacemaker his cardiologist has been recommending for more than a decade.

In the meantime, he left the genealogical digging to me. And I left the trip-coordinating to my efficient daughter, Aimée, so I could focus on the vital statistical leg work.

Dad actually knew plenty about his mother’s side of the family, thanks to correspondences with cousins over the years. But his father’s lineage was lost to him – my grandfather, Wilhelm Mandel, was a stoic and hard-working blue-collar guy. When they communicated, in German, it was perfunctory. My dad was the youngest of three boys, arriving more than a decade after his brothers Harry and Bill. He had to pull his own name, Herbert, from a hat because they were mentally unprepared for another boy baby. Herbert was a curious kid who would become an artist, writer and educator. He left home at 18, not long after his father remarried. No hard feelings or anything. Just impossible to bridge the gap left between them when my grandmother died.

All these years later, Dad’s longing to know and understand his father had finally reached critical mass.

You’d think that six months is enough time to find some good genealogical leads, given all the online resources available these days. But I didn’t have much to go on. I knew only his father’s name, and that he was born in a small town called Bottondorf.

One day before we were ready to depart for Germany, my Dad called to ask if I had the scoop on his ancestry. I told him I was still working on it. Truth was, I’d pretty much given up.

As I hung up the phone, something in me rallied. I had one job to do, and I wasn’t about to let him down. Not now. So I went to 411.com and searched “Mandels in Bottondorf.” I got 10 results. Then I went to Google Translate and prepared a script. “Hello, my name is Carol Mandel and my father Herbert is looking for family in Bottondorf. I don’t speak German. Can you help me?” Then I randomly called one of the numbers and spit out a horrible rendition of my query.

What I didn’t think about was how I would translate whatever the answer was, should the person who answered speak no English. The female voice on the other end of the phone had no English, but seemed to understand me. She laughed uncomfortably at my attempts to reframe the question and apologize for the intrusion. To make a longer story a little shorter, I managed to say I’d have my German cousin, Rainer, follow up. Then I packed my bag and prepared to explain to my Dad how I’d failed.

As it turned out, I had an extra day to prepare myself for the big letdown – my dad misplaced his passport and missed the flight. But thanks to Aimée, they managed to score an emergency replacement passport in New York City and were on the next flight to Berlin, one day later than the rest of us.

In the interim, cousin Rainer emailed to say he had good news. In the follow-up phone call, the woman’s son actually knew a guy from Bottondorf who he claimed knew all about my father’s family.

I was again as elated as I was skeptical. Who was this guy? How could this genealogical miracle have happened, so randomly and impossibly?

Two days later, I was on a train bound for Bottondorf with my dad, sister and husband. We were met at the station by Ulrich, the guy my cousin mentioned. Turns out that Ulrich was a cousin of my father’s by marriage. And, he is a genealogist and historian by trade. And, he just happened to have the week off. And, from his living room you can see the original ancestral home of the first Mandel to settle in Bottondorf in 1670, Hans Heinrich Mandel.

Ulrich had photos waiting, of my grandfather at age 13, of my great-grandfather assembled in the village with his fellow war veterans. Of my great-aunt Maria, the youngest of my grandfather’s six siblings.

Then we walked around the corner to cousin Anita’s house, Maria’s granddaughter. She spoke no English, but she didn’t have to. My father’s first language returned to him, enough for them to converse over the mutual family photos she had carefully preserved in a leather-bound album.

Among them was a snapshot of my young dad, embracing his father, brother and stepmom.

And then, Anita’s mother left the room, returning with two large photographs in her arms. She presented them to my dad. “These are your father’s grandparents, Johannes Karl and Margaraetha,” explained Ulrich, my savior and translator.

In that moment, as my father sat holding the life-sized images of his grandparents – whose names he never knew, and whose faces had almost been lost to him – I erupted in tears at the exact moment my sister did. As we looked into the eyes of our great-grandparents for the first time, I’m not sure what it was that simultaneously hit us.

But in hindsight, I believe it was the raw emotion of reaching the end of an epic and impossible adventure. Against all odds, we arrived together in a place where “family” is universally understood in a language that transcends words in the improbable place where, despite our human failings, what must happen, does.

My Turn: Watching the death of a bee; seeing existence stripped bare

My carpenter bee. Credit: Carol Robidoux
My carpenter bee. Credit: Carol Robidoux

All summer I have watched as small piles of sawdust accumulated just beyond my back door. I didn’t know there were carpenter bumblebees until I got up close and personal with their handiwork: perfectly bored caverns in the wood railing outside my door, where future hordes of carpenter bees are bred.

Not the greatest discovery for a housewife who has longed for a carpenter husband from time to time. Not that I’m complaining. But he has his hands full without having to patch up bee-sized holes in the woodwork.

Which is why I was surprised at the compassion I felt for the disoriented carpenter bee when I almost stepped on him, his wings moving in a flightless frenzy as he slowly crawled across my back porch.

I think he was trying to scare me, but it was futile. Oh dying carpenter bee, where is thy sting?

Lucky for both of us, I learned the male carpenters don’t have stingers. I also learned they are generally solitary critters, worker bees without social habits. Knowing that, his dance of death made me feel all the more sad. What a lonely life – even though I realize it is what it is, by some design of nature.
Not that I will miss the miniature dunes of dust and resulting holes that, no doubt, will remain as a monument long after he is gone.

No, I think the sadness for me has something to do with the wonder of nature and the symbiotic pull of such a small critter. Without my wood porch, he would perish. Without his daily presence, I would have missed another one of those moments, in which the big world stops spinning long enough for me to get my bearings and actually see something otherwise indiscernible.

Get close enough to a carpenter bee and you will fight the urge to pet him, once you are lost in the fine detail of his furry yellow thorax. Study his fat body and impossible filigree wings long enough, and you will wonder how this specimen gets off the ground.

Scientists have concluded there is no mechanical truth, no aerodynamic reason, for their success. It is a matter of brute force; sheer will to fly. Theirs is a busy existence involving digging holes, breeding a sophisticated society of drones and queens, pollinating plants and making it possible for humans to harvest fruit and vegetables across the globe, to ensure our “five a day.”

We have learned, with colony collapse in honey bees, that there are no small players in the food chain that binds our mutual existence.

So it was, watching my carpenter bee in a death spiral outside my door, that I felt obliged to linger as he tumbled around, wings gasping for air, abdomen glistening in the autumn sun, his will to bore, to fly, to pollinate, to procreate – to live – exhausting all at once in a brilliant, valiant moment of truth for both of us.

(Carol Robidoux is a freelance writer and lives in Manchester.)

Published in the Concord Monitor Sept. 6, 2014

The wasp underground: Busier than bees

I went back to the scene of the crime and took some footage to see what really happened to me on Aug. 31.

It was on that day that, after rolling over some sort of hive with my lawnmower, I suffered four stings. I never saw them coming.

On Sept. 1, I went back to see who was occupying my backyard, and discovered an army of busy wasps.

About 15 seconds in I slow down the video so you can see the wasps in action.

Enjoy.

 

 

September 1: Summer Gently Slips Away

It is September and, just like that, summer slips away.

Something about the angles of sun and shadow shift.

Bees gather gold dust with the urgency of shoppers at a ‘going out of business’ sale, and the once-sturdy sunflower limbs hunch with age, their wrinkles and crevices devoured by ravenous ants.

Fully loaded flowers float among mostly rot and decay, or lingering buds that haven’t given up hope.

It is summer’s last gasp and I revel in the warmth of colors, fading fast as the autumn sun.

’55 Chevys and Signs of Life in a Parking Garage

Joe LaRochelle's '55 Chevy, just like Mom used to drive.
Joe LaRochelle’s ’55 Chevy, just like Mom used to drive.

“Today your grandma would’ve been 96,” I said to my son Bill, who happened to be home for a visit July 3.

“Are you sad?” he asked.

“No,” I said, without really thinking about it one way or the other.

My mother will be gone 10 years in October. I have gotten used to not having her around, even though hardly a day goes by that I don’t think about what her advice might be on any number of life’s questions I’m left to internalize.

The rest of my day was typical – mostly work, some tidying up. At some point I realized that, with a Friday bank holiday, it might be a good idea to go get some euros for our upcoming international vacation.

It was getting late – around 4 p.m. The downtown Citizen’s bank has a convenient parking garage, which is usually pretty well occupied. But being the Thursday before a holiday at 4 p.m., I had my pick of parking spots. I turned into one of the first spots I saw on the ground level.

As I got out of my car I thought to myself that I needed to go up one level to get to the bank. There are stairs in the center of the garage, but I had parked near the ramp that goes up to the next level, so I just decided to walk up the ramp.

I should add that, in reality, I didn’t need to go up one level. I know this, but for some reason, my head told me otherwise.

Or maybe it was my heart.

As I rounded the corner I saw a green ’55 Chevy parked right in front of me. It was pretty much the only vehicle on that level. Had I not made a mistake about where I needed to go and walked up the ramp, I wouldn’t have seen it.

Without thinking about it one way or the other, I started to cry.

I was sad.

Sad because my mother purchased her green 1955 Chevy new, and it was for my entire life synonymous with her – even after she sold it in the early 1990s. Everyone knew my mom by her car.

I have seen ’55 Chevys from time to time out in the world, but usually at car shows and rarely painted in that familiar shade of green.

I walked over to the car and snapped a few photos – the hood ornament that looks like a minimalist silver airplane, the pointy tail lights, the silhouette that struck me at that particular moment as a green ghost of my childhood.

The windows were rolled down, so I moved close enough to see if the interior details were as I remembered them.  They were, only this car looked like new, inside and out, with the exception of a little rust on the rear bumper.

I took it all in for what seemed like way more than the two or three minutes it was in real time. I walked down the stairs and did my banking, and almost didn’t go back upstairs to see if the car was still there when I was finished.

But I needed to see it one more time.

I had the presence of mind to leave a note for the car’s owner under the windshield wiper, explaining how seeing that car on my mother’s 96th birthday was a special gift. I thanked him for being there.

Several hours later my phone rang. It was Joe LaRochelle, who identified himself as the owner of the car.

“Wanna drive it on your mom’s birthday?” he asked right away.

I didn’t hesitate.

“No. No, thank you – it’s pretty late,” I said, without looking at the clock – which I later noticed hadn’t quite reached 9 p.m. on the digital display.

Joe told me that he bought the car in 1982, only the second car he’d ever purchased in his life. He drives it all the time.

“I used to live in Manchester but I moved to Maine – I’m actually just here visiting my brother,” he told me.

“So, finding your car in Manchester on my mother’s birthday was really pretty random,” I said, matter-of-factly.

Joe and I talked a little more about his love of vintage cars.

“The only difference is that my mom’s car had a white top. I guess all the ’55 Chevys were mostly painted green, huh?” I said.

“No, they came in 100 different color combinations,” said Joe.

“Wow,” I said. “A hundred?”

I took down his number, and the address of his brother’s shop over on Massabesic Street, Jon’s Shafts & Stuff, in case I ever need a shaft, or other car related stuff.

I hung up the phone, half regretting not taking Joe up on the offer to go for a spin in the old ’55.

But as I internalized it all, I think my gut reaction came from the same place as my urge to walk up the parking garage ramp.

Sometimes in life we need an affirmation that everything is OK. Or that everything that isn’t OK, will be.  Sometimes it’s just enough to be reminded that as random and disconnected as life can seem at times, it’s really not.

Life means everything, even if we don’t always understand why we’re here, or where we’re heading. We just need to follow our heart and trust our gut, and look for the signs that help move us in the right direction when we need it most.


Screen Shot 2015-07-04 at 11.10.59 AMPostscript: July 3, 2015 – Tonight, while walking in downtown Manchester heading for the day-early fireworks, my husband pointed to this car parked on Elm Street. “Just like your mom’s!” he said, and sure enough, there it was, for the second consecutive year, a ’55 Chevy.

My Turn: A clear view from an empty nest

 

My Turn: A clear view from an empty nest
My Turn: A clear view from an empty nest

 

We have joined the ranks of the notorious empty nesters. I say this with eyes wide open, knowing that Empty Nest Syndrome is actually a diagnosable disorder, treatable with antidepressants and counseling, according to WebMD.

Somehow, my husband and I have managed to cope without a prescription or professional help – unless you count the jugs of red wine we’ve downed during Friday night dance parties for two, supplemented with frequent Saturdays and/or Sundays at the sports bar, where we drone on and on about lots of things that don’t have to do with child raising, as our therapeutic bartender dutifully listens and nods.

Of course, we go there to watch our former hometown heroes, the Philadelphia Phillies, over a burger and a pitcher of beer. That’s not the same as drowning our sorrows over our birdless nest, or drowning out the phantom chirps of the ghosts of baby birds past, who have long since flown the coop.

Don’t get me wrong. There are times when Jim and I acknowledge we will never again experience anything as joyful as a crowded Christmas morning with a houseful of happy kids, or the parental peace that settles in after every child you are responsible for keeping alive is tucked in their own bed, safe and sound.

I will admit that sometimes I long for the good old days, when all it took to materialize my son for his favorite chicken casserole was a declarative text message, like: “Food!” It was magical. He’d come bounding down from his third-floor lair in no time flat and satisfy my maternal need to feed something on demand.

Similarly, I could always count on spending quality mother-daughter time with my fashion-forward daughter by sending a simple, “Want to go to the mall?” text, and before you could say “Do I look fat in these skinny jeans?” we were on the road, Julie riding shotgun in the minivan, allowing me to peek through the tinted window of her current hopes and dreams.

All that changed when my younger son moved out in January, ending what had been a pretty good 38-year run of life with kids starring our own four, plus a revolving cast of supporting characters – teenagers who unofficially adopted us as substitute parents.

Many of them stayed on full time for as long as they needed, which has added to the sense that our big, empty house has never been bigger or more empty.

I don’t know, but maybe the reason Empty Nest Syndrome is no longer the mental health issue it once was is because the technology is so much better these days than when my parents had to figure out how to go on living without children in and out at all hours of the day and night.

I don’t sit by the phone and wait around for a kid to call to let me know how their life is going.

For one thing, we got rid of our landline.

But besides, my smart phone delivers automatic text alerts whenever my oldest, Aimée, checks in somewhere near her home in Pennsylvania, including the names of everyone she’s checking in with. It’s like having a private investigator on duty.

I am also thankful that my son’s girlfriend posts frequently on Instagram. I now know when Bill is enjoying a picnic at the beach, or eating a large piece of cheesecake at a restaurant on the coast.

Without technology, I might get antsy wondering if my oldest son, Neil, has settled in to his new life in New York City, since moving back to the states from Japan earlier this month.

But thanks to his Facebook updates and occasional tweets, I know he’s staying with friends on the Upper West Side, and is still looking for a lead on a cheap apartment in a nice neighborhood. I also know he’s missing Tokyo, and that the city that never sleeps always changes.

And then there’s my youngest, Julie. I watched her airplane make its way from Portland, Ore., to Fort Worth, Texas, Tuesday night using an app that also informed me of her current elevation and the trajectory of her flight as it entered an animated thunderstorm on Doppler radar.

I knew her flight was going to be 15 minutes late to Logan Airport, which gave me just enough time to park and find my way to the Spirit Airlines baggage carousel.

For all the virtual long-distance mothering I’ve done, I have to say that technology has nothing on the actual feeling you get when you wrap your arms around your well-traveled child after her long flight home.

In fact, nothing beats seeing your kids in real time. That’s why I totally understand how Empty Nest Syndrome could be a problem for someone who doesn’t embrace technology. It’s practically painless to be the mother of four grown children.

Yes, I hover over my iPhone. A lot.

And while my husband and I are enjoying our second wind as a carefree couple, I also know that whenever the nest needs a little livening up, all I have to do is tag my son in a photo of my chicken casserole on Facebook, and he will find his way home in time to finish the leftovers faster than a hungry homing pigeon.

 (Carol Robidoux is a freelance writer who lives in Manchester and editor of manchesterinklink.com).

ManchesterInkLink: My New Adventure

ManchesterInkLink.com
ManchesterInkLink.com

I’m off to a quiet start with the launch of ManchesterInkLink.com, a community hub news and info site for the city of Manchester.

It’s still in the early stages, which means I’m working out the kinks and acquainting myself with being my own tech guy as well as editorial team and sales reps.

In the coming weeks I hope to develop it into a full-fledged information hub where you can find helpful news and information, and connect with other like-minded individuals.

Wish me luck.

Ding-Dong: Stark Beer Baron Calling

Bill, the Stark Beer Baron. He delivers.

So there I was in a Google+ hangout, conducting business via my computer. I was trying to block out the lawnmower rumble coming  from across the street and focus on the virtual face in front of me when I heard the unmistakable vroooom of a motorcycle, which came to an abrupt halt as it crescendoed outside my house.

“That’s weird,” I thought to myself, without taking my eyes off the computer. “Wonder who it might be?”

My first thought was my friend Cindy, who has stopped by on her motorcycle before. My second thought was the police, because, well, because that’s just how my brain works.

A minute later, there was a knock at the door. I excused myself and went to see who was knocking.

There, backlit by the morning sun, was a divine alcohol angel descended to earth to make my day. He was holding a cold, sweaty beer.

“Hello?” I said, tentatively.

The man, who I later learned was not an angel but rather a beer baron named Bill, politely informed me that my son had entered – and won – a promotion by Stark Brewing Company (formerly Milly’s Tavern) for a free beer for the man of the house.

“He’s at work right now, but I’ll happily intercept, er, accept it on his behalf,” I said, reaching for the cold Mt. U Cream Ale in his outstretched hand.

Fortunately I came to my senses in time to tell him I wanted to take his picture, and he said he wanted to do the same, so we mugged for mutual promotional celly snaps, and then he said goodbye.

He had more beer to deliver.

About an hour later, my son Bill – not to be confused with the Beer Baron Bill – called to ask if a motorcycle delivery man had been to the house recently.

And that’s how I found out the rest of the story, that my son had to earn the beer by posting via the NH reddit page, and that Stark’s motorcycle craft beer promotion also happens to coincide with NH’s own annual Laconia Bike Week.

“I wasn’t sure if it was legit,” my son said. “He said he was a beer baron.”

Oh, he was legit, all right!

BTW, here’s what my son posted:

“My truck broke down on Friday and I wasn’t able to travel down from school to see my dad for Father’s Day — even after I took time off from work. It would absolutely make his day to receive a free craft beer by motorcycle. He might even share a cigar with you!”

So Happy Belated Father’s Day to my husband, who will love this story. Big thanks to my son, Bill, for going the extra mile even when his truck failed him.

And to Bill the Beer Baron, if you’re reading this, feel free to stop back later for a cigar.

You can visit the NH reddit thread here.

Call out to beer lovers on reddit.

 

Good Fathers Make All the Difference in the World

My father is an artist, an educator, a writer, a self-taught musician, a storyteller. He was the nurturer of my psyche, and has enriched my life beyond measure. In return, I’ve made sure he will never run out of ugly neckties.

Although I’m pretty sure I’ve been celebrating Father’s Day for as long as I’ve had a dad, I was surprised to learn that it’s only been a national holiday since 1972. Unlike Mother’s Day, the nation’s dads had to come a long way, baby, to earn their officially sanctioned collection of aforementioned bad ties.

Both holidays have historic roots in the turn of the 20th century. Mother’s Day was given a presidential nod in 1914, just six short years after the idea was floated by social activist Ann Jarvis. A reciprocal pitch for Father’s Day, made in 1910 by a Virginia church group, fizzled.

But the idea didn’t die completely. One such effort to see that dads got their due came in 1934, when a group gathered in New York City’s Central Park to lobby for “Parents Day” rather than gender specific parental holidays, a fact outlined in The Modernization of Fatherhood by historian Ralph Larossa.

But Madison Avenue won that battle, not wanting to water down the emotional-spending gold mine that was Mother’s Day.

There is actually a lot more to know about Father’s Day than I first suspected. I’d written it off as an obligatory Hallmark holiday years ago, even though it always feels good to honor my dad with an annual show of tangible affection.

He’ll be 89 this October, and he’s made all the difference in my life.

What I learned in researching Father’s Day is that long before Dr. Benjamin Spock wrote the book in 1946 on the proper care and feeding of 20th century babies, which included a call out to dads to get in the game, a social movement known as “Fathercraft” was gaining momentum across the pond, encouraging dads to embrace fatherhood as a science.

And it was contagious.

New York educator Angelo Patri wrote newspaper columns and aired a radio program geared toward men, coinciding with a series of “father-to-father” books urging dads to step up their game and become Ward Cleavers – before Ward Cleaver was Ward Cleaver. Fathers, according to Patri, should be willing to lead by example, invest emotionally and help their kids grow into upstanding citizens by offering their expert advice.

Of course, backlash came from those fathers who preferred a hands-off approach to parenthood, maintaining that children should be seen and not heard, and real men don’t burp babies. Then television caught on, just in time to bring us TV’s most iconic dad, Ward Cleaver, along with other fictional father figures from programs such as Make Room for Daddy and My Three Sons – role models who brought some sensitivity to the patriarchal mix. From there, it was only a matter of time before the cultural shift in gender roles and equality actually moved us forward.

In 1966, President Lyndon Johnson, father of two daughters, became the first U.S. president to acknowledge a day for dads with these wise words:

“If the father’s responsibilities are many, his rewards are also great – the love, appreciation and respect of children and spouse. It is the desire to acknowledge publicly these feelings we have for the fathers of our nation that has inspired the Congress to call for the formal observance of Father’s Day June 15, 1966.”

Six years later, President Richard Nixon, also dad to two girls, fixed Father’s Day on the official calendar as the third Sunday in June, with this moving sentiment:

“To have a father – to be a father – is to come very near the heart of life itself. In fatherhood we know the elemental magic and joy of humanity. In fatherhood we even sense the divine, as the Scriptural writers did who told of all good gifts coming ‘down from the father of lights, with whom is not variableness, neither shadow of turning,’ symbolism so challenging to each man who would give his own son or daughter a life of light without shadow.”

Four decades later, Father’s Day is celebrated around the world in many ways, not always in June, and not always with neckties.

But the vital role fathers fulfill in the lives of kids has become indisputable.

The “father factor,” according to fatherhood.org, calculates that there are 24 million children living in the U.S. without their biological dads. That’s one in three. And their calculations go on to explain how it has become a contributing factor to our nation’s worst societal problems, from poverty, child abuse, behavioral diagnoses and obesity, to kids who wind up involved in crime and, ultimately, prison.

As I said, good fathers make all the difference.

My own dad, also the father of two daughters, has truly given me a life of light without shadow.

He painted animals on my bedroom walls and taught me how to craft papier mache beads from wood pulp to string into clunky necklaces. He taught me nostalgic jingles from his youth, like the Pepsi Cola and Hammacher Schlemmer songs, and timeless games, like jacks and pick-up sticks.

He was the one who brought my hand puppets to life, and read the entire collection of The Happy Hollisters in bedtime installments, for months.

He trimmed my platinum locks regularly with the same attention to detail that Michelangelo gave the Sistine Chapel. He took us to the public pool, taught us how to float on our backs and paddle our feet, then coached us from a bench on the sidelines once we got the hang of it.

My father planted miniature rose bushes he called “penny trees.” When the tiny blooms faded and hit the ground, they magically turned into pennies, which my sister and I joyously retrieved from the garden each morning.

Dad taught me to drive. He taught me to cook the world’s best french toast. He taught me that a job worth doing is worth doing right, words intended to slow down his baby girl who was always in a hurry to grow up and get things done.

When I broke the news shortly after my 16th birthday that he was going to be a grandfather, things changed for a time. He got quiet. But love trumps disappointment, if you let it. His granddaughter arrived and launched the next chapter of our relationship, one in which I would begin to understand the truth about parental love, for all its ups and downs.

These days my father lists to the left when he walks and can’t stand for long before his legs tire. When I make it home to see him, the 350 miles between us seems too far. He’s lost vision in one eye. The stories he tells, past and present, are always engaging, and I will listen to them as many times as he wants to repeat them.

I don’t know for how much longer I will have the luxury of celebrating Father’s Day, but for now, I will hang on his every word, tucking them away in my heart where they will stay, for safe keeping, long after he’s gone.