James Lileks
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I heard an advertisement for Father's Day gifts, and winced. Tropical shirts, BBQ tools, novelty socks. Bourbon-flavored bacon! Bacon-flavored socks! No. Please no.

How about this: Sit down, and listen. Ask your father about a day of dadhood that sticks in his mind.

You might be expecting the day you graduated from college. The day you mastered parallel parking. The piano recital. The marquee events. But quite possibly it's a tossup between Smoov the worm — whom we'll meet in a moment — and the time the dog belched.

Really, that was the best. In 2001, the dog burped, and she laughed for two minutes straight. Such absolute delight and hilarity I'd never seen in such pure form.

Of course, the kid won't remember it. The child may barely remember the dog, except for an old, dim canine-shaped presence. You're lucky if any memory forms from the early years.

Something else is being built, of course — a sense of the self, a sense of the world, a sense of how people bond and belong. Each year they open another door into another room in their heads, and fill it with new ideas and concerns and pastimes. And every room in this long hallway takes them farther away from the first ones, until eventually the hinges are rusted shut. But that's fine. They don't need anything in that room anyway.

But there you are, the parent, always looking back over your shoulder at the other end of the hall, remembering everything.

So that's the best gift you can give your dad today: Grit your teeth and listen to some embarrassing story, or some maudlin tale from when you were very, very young, even though you have absolutely no recollection or connection. It's like he's taking about someone else, isn't he?

Oh, but he isn't. He's taking about you when you were a pupa, before the wings broke the chrysalis. Except you were always you, always fully formed. You had wings the day he met you, even if they were invisible. In advance he lamented the day the wings would unfurl, even as he worked toward it and pointed at the sky and said that's where you belong. Maybe he heard the wings beat the first time when he realized that you wouldn't always hold his hand when you were walking. That someday you'd let go.

And he'd never know which time was the last.

There's only the first, when you wrapped a hand around his finger, all red and squalling, and the last, when you let go out of confidence. Everything in between is a gift. So let them tell you about one of those ordinary joys. A time when you both laughed at a cartoon. A day at the park, pushing a swing. The first time you popped your new Hello Kitty umbrella in the rain, and beamed.

One summer afternoon my daughter found an inchworm in the backyard and named if Smoov. She regarded it with fascination and affection, delighted as it crawled up her arm. That was 2003. I've thought about Smoov for 21 years, every summer I'm back in the yard where she found the little green critter. Of course she doesn't remember, but I do. Smoov, needless to say, is long gone. But I remember that simple afternoon.

It's not the gifts we get today that make a Father's Day. It's remembering the gifts we were given before: every moment we were fortunate enough to be her dad.