The Most Important Day of the Year

June 15, 2024

You can count on it coming in early June. My Dad will reach out to all of his kids and say, “The most important day of the year is coming this Sunday. You do remember that Father’s Day is this Sunday, right?”

Yes, Dad. We remember.

I heard those words this week from my 85-year-old Dad in our weekly Tuesday conversation. I love those talks. We’ve been having them for a long time now. They don’t last too long, maybe 15-20 minutes. We talk about our workouts that week, new ailments, family members (only good things – I have to say that because they read these posts), books we are reading, and things that make us smile and laugh. And believe it or not, I learn something new about my Dad in a majority of those conversations. I wish I could have them all transcribed, and that I would store them in Evernote, but I just try to take them all in and enjoy them for what they are. 

Like me, my Dad is a storyteller. I enjoy all of the stories, though I have often doubted their veracity. Abe Lincoln, one of my father’s heroes, often explained situations through anecdotes and parables. While the northern masses loved it, those closest to him would roll their eyes whenever he would start a new story with “It reminds me of the farmer, who . . . “ Over the years, I have learned that Dad’s stories have more than a grain of truth in them. The movie that hits closest to home is one my favorites, Big Fish. The father, Ed Bloom, is one of the all time great storytellers, and his son asks him to “Joe Friday” it – to just to state the facts. Ed Bloom responds, “Most men, they’ll tell you a story straight through. It won’t be complicated, but it won’t be interesting either.” I think that is Dad’s philosophy as well. Why just state the facts when you can tell a fascinating story? It’s a lesson from my father that I’ve tried to teach both of my sons. High points, low points, risks, victories, failures, embarrassing moments – after a while, they just become another story. And life is far better when we have interesting stories. 

All of us kids have stories about Dad as a feared disciplinarian. If our mom wanted us to put an immediate halt to whatever shenanigans we were up to, all she had to say was, “Do you want me to tell this to your father!?!” Our answer would be an immediate, “No, Ma’am,” and it was over. There was yelling, there were punishments, and there were threats. I don’t think he could have really turned me into a grease spot (one of his frequent threats when I had done/not done something), but I did not want to find out. We laugh about those stories now, and my siblings and I all believe that those moments shaped us into the people we are now.

Dad kept us busy every weekend. For the majority of the year, weekends meant lawn mowing. Dad bought the heaviest and most reliable Sears Craftsman mowers. He would never waste money on any kind of self-propelled mower, because that would have made the job a little easier. During the winter, the lawn went dormant, but our chores did not. We had a vacant lot next to us. Nothing but dirt and rocks. Dad must have truly hated the rocks that would pop up whenever it rained on that dirt lot. We would be out there on a winter weekend, digging holes in that lot, then the next weekend, we would rake the rocks up on the lot, and throw them in those holes that we had dug. Then it would rain, and more rocks would rise to the surface. Endless, useless work. Maybe it was good for us? And now, it’s just a story. Whenever I do something that takes a lot of work for not much result, all I’m doing is “raking rocks.” For the record, I have never asked my children to mow the lawn or rake rocks. So far, they have turned out pretty darn good.

I would describe Dad as crazy, but mostly crazy in a very good way. As a family, we did unheard of things. I’ve written about our three-week bicycling excursion to Ireland. We trained as a together, then, with only maps as our guide, packed up our bikes, put them together in the Limerick, Ireland airport, and took off riding. It was an epic trip, a fountain of many stories, and only a true madman would plan it. We would have very splashy and noisy swimming battles in any pools that would have us. We would swim up to Dad, and he would toss us away, high in the air, sending us screaming as we landed in contorted positions. That’s a great way to clear a crowded pool by the way. I’m pretty sure other parents were telling their kids to stay clear of the insanity in the pool. I don’t know how rare this is, but he demanded that all of his kids go to college out of state. He thought we would learn more about life by expanding our horizons. It was just one more crazy expectation growing up in our house.

And there’s a little bit of Atticus Finch in my Dad. And I’m talking less about the lawyer side of Atticus than the “treat all people with respect” side of him. I remember eating lunch at a super fancy club, and saying thank you to a waiter who brought me some water. The next thing I felt was a hard slap on my face from my grandmother, who told me never to thank a person of color. She did not say it with those words. I remember looking at my Dad, who assured me we would talk later. I don’t remember exactly what he said when we went home, but he confirmed that the members of our family treated all people with fairness and respect. And he didn’t say this, but I felt the Atticus Finch line, “There’s a lot of ugly things in this world, son. I wish I could keep ‘em all away from you. That’s never possible.” He was raised in a racist environment and somehow he emerged as a progressive Southerner. He took on clients of all races who could not afford to pay him, and it was just part of what he did. But I know it was appreciated, and we all loved that he was given one of our many much-loved short-haired dachshunds as one form of payment. I think that’s the side of my father that shaped me and eventually contributed to my decision to want to make a difference via public education.

As we have progressed through life, it’s Dad’s listening and caring that have meant the most to me. He knows as much about my life and my career as anybody. He will tell me when I’ve written a great post, and when I’ve written a bunch of words that don’t really matter. He has cheered me on when life has gone well, and been there for me in my most challenging times. These once-a-week conversations add up, because he is fully invested in them. I feel pretty darn lucky, at age 62, to have a father who still adds so much to my life. On my last birthday, he told me that he was embarrassed to have a son who was so old. Pretty funny, actually. Sometimes, being a great dad, friend, or partner is just listening. And believe it or not, for storytellers to be at the top of their game, they must be outstanding listeners.

So whether or not Father’s Day is the most important day of the year, I do wish a Happy Father’s Day to my listening, progressive, crazy, idleness-hating, holder of high expectations, and story-telling father. This post just scratches the surface of who you are. But I love all of it. I look forward to our conversation on Father’s Day, and then we’ll get back to the highlight of my week – our Tuesday morning conversations.

I love you, Dad. 

“A man tells his stories so many times that he becomes the stories.
They live on after him, and in that way he becomes immortal.” 
Ed Bloom, Big Fish

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First and foremost, Happy Father’s Day to all of you note-reading dads out there, and the same to all of you note-readers’ fathers, whether or not they are still with us. We all get into this father thing not knowing a damn thing, and we do our best to be a positive influence in our children’s lives. 

For the record, I think Mother’s Day is by far the best of the Hallmark Holidays. Father’s Day is the second. And Valentine’s Day is a distant third. It’s hard enough to be a good partner to the person you love, but when you add a day that comes with such high expectations, to me, it’s just another chance to fall short.

Three quotes about dads that I loved but did not use in the post:

  • “A good father is one of the most unsung, unpraised, unnoticed, and yet one of the most valuable assets in our society.” – Billy Graham
  • “I only hope when I have my own family that everyday I see a little more of my father in me.” – Keith Urban
  • “A father carries pictures where his money used to be.” – Steve Martin. Come on. That’s really funny.

And I don’t have a quote for this, but I remember what Father George Tribou, my high school principal and one of my heroes, said when he was talking to parents about what he wanted out of a Catholic High School graduate. He said, “All I want is for them to be good men and good fathers.” 

The cover picture was taken two years ago. My Dad and my step mom took a trip west from Hot Springs to Mount Ida, Arkansas. From a lofty 700 feet in elevation, we are overlooking Lake Ouachita, where we spent countless weekends growing up. The next photo was taken three years ago, eating a healthy breakfast in Pangburn, Arkansas. And the last picture was taken last year in my Dad and Step Mom’s front yard.

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  1. Mitch Ozawa says:

    Wonderful post Mike. Happy Father’s Day. Fyi, I followed your father’s college advice even though I never met him. Ann and I required all of our kids to go to school outside of California to get a better perspective of different people, ways of life and thought processes.

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      Thanks, Mitch. It will never hurt them to go outside of CA. And besides, just like Steve Martin says, you have pictures of your kids in your wallet where you used to have your money. Happy Father’s Day, my friend.

  2. Dan Stepenosky says:

    Homerun! Happy Father’s Day! I’m off to surf with my son to celebrate Father’s Day.

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      Thanks, Dan! Enjoy your Father’s Day.

  3. Connie Harrington says:

    I loved the “mowing lawn” punishment. Ours was “pulling weeds”. Did we ever hate it. We had a corner lot so we had a HUGE front yard!!! 😭😭😭

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      Ah. The pleasant memories of youth. Thanks, Connie!

  4. Beautifully written. Happy Father’s Day to you, Charles, aka “Grumpy”, Pat, and Bill. I love you all so much and am lucky to have you in my life. xoxoxoox

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      Thank you, Tracee!

  5. Bill Sampson says:

    Happy Father’s Day to you Mike. I was VERY pleasantly surprised when Margaret rolled in about 10 this morning. I had no idea she was driving up here. She and I spent an inordinate amount of time because Henry Ford decided about 80 years ago to save about 1/10 cent per car on a simple item.

    Permit me to explain. We own a 1948 Mercury woodie that is in decent but simply “survivor” shape. Margaret very much wants the car. Even with lots of Google research we could not find a simple way to pull the headlight switch. I could not have wrestled the old one out without her. It involves a tiny hold where you cannot see nor readily get your fingers. It was a good thing she could document all the steps with her cell phone and even jam her fingers in for a few of about 100 tries. Thanks to her help it is out now and a new one will be here by Tuesday. THAT’s a Happy Father’s Day for me – keeping an old man, to say nothing of an old car, running. Yes I swam this morning.

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      Thank you, Bill! That 1/10 of a cent could have made all the difference. Funny – its seems like now people are quick to make us pay far more than that for items far more unnecessary than headlights. I’m still not sure I need my automatic windshield wipers. Good job swimming. I’m a big fan of Dori’s advice from Finding Nemo – Just Keep Swimming.

  6. Daniel Wren says:


    I loved this essay. You are blessed to have a wonderful father that you can still talk to. Your Father and mine were more similar than I would have imagined. I don’t remember ever having a talk with my Dad about race. However, I never heard racist talk in our house. Dad had a small business. His most valuable worker was a black man named John Cooper. Mr. Cooper came to the house every Friday to get paid. I remember always knowing to call him Mr. Cooper and invite him into the house as I would anyone else. The lesson was subtle but effective.
    Maybe it’s the profession chosen by your Father and I chose to pursue but, I can’t overstate how important it is professionally and personally to be able to tell a story. The facts are the building materials used to construct a house. The story is the finished home.
    You are a great storyteller. I’m sure your Dad is proud.

    Dan Wren

    p.s. I still remember your Dad telling a story to our class on career day. It was the stop how running for public office was the best thing he had done to build his practice. He recommended that although it had worked for him, he wouldn’t recommend it as the best way to build a practice. He was a good enough storyteller that I still remember what he said 45 years ago.
    Happy Father’s Day Mike!

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      Thanks, Daniel. Love the Mr. Cooper story. And I have absolutely no recollection of my dad being at career day, or even that we had a career day. Thanks for sharing that. Happy Fathers/Grandfathers Day to you too, Daniel!

  7. Daniel Wren says:

    I like to imagine myself as a story teller. I make no claim to proof reading anything I post.


    1. Mike Matthews says:

      I enjoy reading your unproofed stories!

  8. mark massey says:

    Mike: Read this. Makes sense to me. Good Father’s Day read.


    “Parental love is a paradox, simultaneously delivering the expectation of a safe harbor with the consequences of discipline. As the father of an adult daughter and son, plus the grandfather of four knucklehead boys (Hurricane, Tornado, Crash, and Train Wreck), I’ve learned some things about this paradox.

    All the hours logged as Dad and Poppy have often caused me to contemplate how different are the roles of mother and father, especially in the overt demonstration of parental love. And it’s fascinating how the manifestation of this love differs between mother and father – biologically, emotionally, and experientially.

    A mother’s love, at once gentle and fierce, is observed in almost all animals, not just humans. No doubt you’ve heard this simile: “… as sweet as a mother’s love,” and this warning: “Never get between a momma bear and her cub.” I’ve witnessed and have been the happy recipient of this side of the parental paradox, and there truly is no other force like it in nature.

    However, a human father’s love is more often associated with the other half of the paradox by unfortunate references like “tough” and “strict.” Here’s a warning no one has ever heard from a father: “Just wait ’til your mother gets home!” As a teenager, my dad once – and only once – apologized if his approach to delivering paternal love might have seemed “hard-boiled.” It did. But recognizing that this rare gesture was rhetorical, I chose the better part of valor and my right under Miranda to remain silent.

    Alas, it’s troubling that there are no corresponding sweet references to paternal love. Could this be why Father’s Day is not quite as big a deal as Mother’s Day? Just sayin’ …

    Mothers occupy the pinnacle of parental love – with complete justification. And not to take anything away from them, but a mother’s sweet love is as primal as the miracle of birth. Indeed, it’s their first nature and, let’s be honest – they don’t have to work too hard to deliver it. But there’s a uniqueness about a father’s love that deserves a better rap, for two reasons:

    1. A human father’s tough love is more learned than primal and does not exist outside of homo sapiens.

    2. When a father’s parental toughness is delivered, especially when applied to an indignant recipient (read: teenager), it requires a love that is at once courageous and patient. Courageous enough to endure a likely negative response, and patient enough to defer gratification – sometimes for years – for having dispensed that lesson.

    It must be said that no one is more keenly aware of the distinction between the application of these two demonstrations of love than a single parent (especially a single mom), where both kinds must be delivered by the same person, perhaps within minutes. God bless them, every one.

    Mothers, please forgive any bias you may detect, but here’s my conclusion about the paradox of parental love: The only force in the universe that comes close to a mother’s sweet/fierce love is a father’s tough/courageous love. But the latter is the harder job, and the return on investment almost always takes longer.

    Write this on a rock … Happy Father’s Day, Dads. You’ve earned it.”

    By Jim Blasingame. The author of The 3rd Ingredient, the Journey of Analog Ethics into the World of Digital Fear and Greed.

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      Well, Mark, I like the thinking process, but Mr. Blasingame and I are not on the same page. I’m not sure why anyone wants to get in the comparison game here. And I would never say that the dad’s is the “harder job.” In fact, if I had to make an argument, it would be the opposite. I also disagree with his statement that mothers “don’t have to work too hard …” because it’s in their nature. Parenting is hard. Single parenting is really hard (I do agree with him there). I admire moms and dads who figure out how to teach and love their children over all the obstacles that are thrown in their way. And my take on life, and this part of the parenting debate, is never to focus on how hard it is, but to do our absolute best to focus on how meaningful it is.

      As always, thanks for adding to the conversation.

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