Sarah and Dad 1981


In honor of the upcoming Father’s Day, I spent this last weekend trying to figure out how it’s evident that my eight siblings and I all come from the same father.  (Which no one with any knowledge has suggested we do not.  There was this one nameless lady who, upon meeting me and my sister, asked, “Same father?”  But she only saw Anika’s blonde hair and my brown; she didn’t know us from Adam.)

I decided to focus on my two eldest brothers, who both came this weekend to DC for a de facto part-family reunion.  I figured that watching them in action could provide the concrete details I was looking for.  Two Olson Boys: A Case Study in Observable Paternity.


I got nowhere.  Really—almost nowhere.

For instance, Nate is gruffer with his children than my father would be—gruffer and sillier.  He barks orders and then laughs and pulls his kids near.  Dan is more physically affectionate than my dad is.  He reaches over to scratch my back, to rub my arm.  Casual-like, as if to say hi, we’re here together, I love you.  Not Dad.  Dad is pretty much exclusively a greetings-and-goodbye hugger, with the occasional hands on the shoulders if he’s standing behind you.

I have felt unsettled about this all weekend.

But surely we’re our father’s children, I kept thinking.  Surely. He wasn’t a neglectful father; he was very present.  He loved us and told us so.  He did the dishes and came to my field hockey games when he could.  He led family prayer.  He never yelled.  He almost never raised his voice.  He would stay up late to talk with me, even when he had gotten home at midnight, even when he had to get up at five.  He talked so much with us about his faith, about his family, about his principles that I often quote him verbatim at church, in my relationships, to my roommates.  “As my father always says,” I say.  “It’s like Dad says,” my brothers say.

I must be a fish in water, I kept thinking, to not see my father in my brothers.  It worried me.  What kind of a blog post would that be?  Happy Father’s Day, Dad.  Here’s a blog post.  We’re not like you.

And, too, there’s this: How will he know we love him if we are not like him?

I said this all to my roommate Jeanette, when she asked (as she always does) how my post was coming.  “I’ve got nothing!” I said.  “We’re not like my dad, it turns out.”  It turns out.  Jeanette hesitated and then said, approximately: “My dad is a chemist.  But none of his kids are.  We asked him once how he felt about that.  He said, ‘I did that on purpose.  I just wanted you to be whatever you wanted to be.’”

Ah, I thought.  Ah ha.

Ah ha.

So.  I know that my brothers and my sisters and I are all like my father.  I know it.  If you met us, you’d know it, too.  Even if the details escape us all.

But today, what I want to pay homage to is how we are not like our father.  Because it turns out he has tried to teach us correct principles and then let us govern (/ actually be) ourselves.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad.  We’re like you.  We’re like us.  Success.