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Fatherhood puts most things in perspective

I still can remember my dad lending comfort and encouragement that day, as I stood there in tears holding my broken Pinewood Derby car.

"We can fix it," he said.

I didn't think we could, but we tried anyway, using some tape and a lot of hope. But it was no use. My little wooden car would race no more.

But then my dad encouraged me to enter the model car in the paint and finish category of the derby, an important Cub Scout event. My little car, with a broken front axle, won a second place ribbon for its shiny red paint job.

The memory of that day is one of many fond memories I have of my childhood. Only recently I've realized how important those little moments in life can be. You see, four months ago, I became a dad.

In February my wife and I were blessed with a son. They say he looks like me but I don't ever remember looking that good.

He's now a 15-pound wonder with sparkling eyes and a smile that will melt your heart. From the moment I saw him I knew life would never be the same.

His birth has caused me to reflect on my past and look forward to his future. It also has made me understand some of the things my parents did when I was a child.

My family moved to Largo in 1968 when I was 5. My father, a professional piano player and entertainer, planned to play the nightclubs and lounges of the Pinellas County beaches.

It was a good plan for several years, until rock 'n' roll bands hit the scene, decreasing the demand for my father's brand of entertainment.

With a mortgage on a four-bedroom house and a wife and five kids to feed, my dad was forced to take his act on the road.

There were times when he was gone for months. I remember how hard it was for my mom to take care of us during those times. And although I don't remember telling him, for many years I was mad at my dad for being gone so much. But recently I've realized how hard it must have been for him, too.

And even though he was gone a lot, he made the best of the time he had with us.

I remember the time he let my brother and me miss school so he could take us deep-sea fishing. I caught a shark, and we caught so many kingfish we ate fish on Sunday for almost a year.

Several times, when dad was performing at a nightclub near home, he would have me come play the drums with him. Later, while counting the money in our tip jars, we would laugh when there was more money in mine.

And for all the times my dad wasn't home, we were lucky to have a mom who was willing to do many of the things my dad couldn't do because he was gone.

I remember a night when Mom stayed outside with me for hours as I tried to lasso a light post to get my Cub Scout merit badge in rope handling.

It's clear to me now. Even when he wasn't there, my dad was always there for us. He did what he had to do to provide for his family. And even though it was hard on all of us, especially my mom, it was the right thing to do.

So now it's my turn to be the dad. My parents always said, "You'll understand some day" and "You'll make your own mistakes some day." Now I'm getting my chance to do just that.

A few weeks ago I was sent on assignment to Miami for a few days. It was the first time I had been away from my son since he was born; and even though it was only for three days, it was hard. It gave me an idea of how my dad must have felt when he was gone.

My job sometimes takes me away from home for a while, and sometimes presents dangerous situations in which to work. I know as time passes I'll have some difficult decisions to make, and I hope I have the wisdom to make those decisions as well as my parents did.

When I look at my son I wonder about the future. He can't talk yet, but when I look into his deep blue eyes I know we have an understanding. His mom and I promise to dedicate the next 20 years or so to making sure he has everything he needs, and he promises to bring us unending joy as we watch him grow. So far we're keeping our promises.

With my first Father's Day approaching, my wife asked me what I wanted as a gift. I told her a few weeks ago I wanted a big rope hammock for the back yard. It seemed like a dad kind of thing to ask for.

But thinking about it again I'd say I already have my Father's Day gift: a beautiful, healthy son.