My wife suggested, the other day, that there is no better Father's Day than the first. As is my way, I tried to work some angle, some way to disagree with her. I searched my memory for a Sunday in June since my son was born that could compare with thirteen years ago. Certainly there have been interactions that have been happy and profound. There have been handmade gifts of pencil holders and painted T-shirts. It is a rare occurrence in my house for me to be the last one in bed on any given day, but that trend is rigidly reversed on Father's Day. But that wasn't the case thirteen years ago.
Way back then, I was taking shifts hopping out of bed to check on the new life form that we had inserted into our ecosystem. What did it want from us? Food? Diaper? Attention? Love? He got all of that in abundance, if not always in the correct order. That first Father's Day coincided with my son's naming ceremony, during which friends and family were encouraged to gather in a circle and speak my son's name aloud and welcome him to the planet. It was a tad new-agey for me, but I was glad that it came with the bonus of a magnolia tree. At the time, it was merely a shrub. It fit neatly in my son's Radio Flyer wagon, and was only as tall as my infant son, all stretched out. When most everyone else had wandered off to their own homes, I went out to the front yard with a couple friends and dug a hole. We planted that tree in the corner of the yard and wondered aloud how big it might grow. Twelve more Father's Days have passed, and that Magnolia now obscured my view of the street in front of the house. It's over twenty feet tall, having long since surpassed my son in height.
Why a magnolia? There was a moment in time when our incipient child could have been a girl. My wife agreed to call her Magnolia, if that eventuality had occurred, as a tribute to the meadow where we were married, and to the cabin where I spent so many summers. The one my father built. When my father died, it opened a spot in the parking lot of life for another Donald Caven, and we agreed that if we had a son that we had a name that was already pretty well broken in. When we got a boy, he got my father's name and the magnolia got to be the tree in the front yard. My first Father's Day.