Father’s Day has been around for a long time — since at least the 15th century — and was celebrated on Saint Joseph’s day as part of the Catholic calendar. This coming Sunday, June 20, marks Father’s Day in the United States as well as many other countries. It’s a day traditionally meant to celebrate the father figures in our lives.

As a young girl, I remember shopping for neckties and handkerchiefs for my father, the only gifts I could afford on my meager allowance. Later, when I married and had children of my own, I would sometimes buy small gifts for my husband — a new pipe, a pair of needle-nosed pliers, a record album — in appreciation for his wholehearted involvement as a father. He never hesitated to change diapers, push the stroller, or spend endless hours playing with our boys.

My relationship with my own father was more complicated. He worked hard to provide a home and stability for our family, but his way of relating to my brother and me was usually formal and distanced. When I was very young, he carried me to bed and tucked me in or allowed me to climb on his lap and style his hair. But the older I got, the more demanding and critical he became, muddying my love with resentment.

Tom Moore is a Belfast poet and he’s often written about his father. This week’s poem encapsulates much of their relationship, which he describes as “tense and often difficult.” As a young man, Tom worked alongside his father. “He was a precise, skilled carpenter and not easy to work with,” he notes. “But I learned from him. He encouraged me to study English and I taught for 40 years.” In a matter-of-fact way, Tom adds, “And I built three houses.”

We honor and remember our fathers for the passing on of knowledge, the high expectations and the prodding, however uncomfortable. They want the best for their children and we often hear their words in our heads long after they are gone. Tom’s poem, “Plumb,” from his book “Saving Nails,” published by Moonpie Press, captures this well.


From year to woodshed I move

split oak, wheeling each load

through an August morning’s

solitude to raise my piles, crooked

and uneven, thinking of my father

and his perfect stacks, a plumb bob

tacked above the row so he could

nudge each stick into exactitude.

An old Egyptian tool, he’d joke

on jobs, the carpenters chuckling,

their four-foot bubble levels

pressed against the studs. I’d play along,

but roil inside at his commands:

Steady the line, Boyo, and use that

Spacer. Now the dialogue’s

Inside my head and his taut string

tests the precision of my words,

seeing if they meet the mark.

Judy Kaber is Belfast’s current poet laureate.