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What makes a great dad? One word says it all

Dads, we are fast approaching your special day. And while we will honor you unconditionally this Father's Day for so many reasons and for the many roles you play, we really can't help but play a little of the 'My daddy is bigger than your daddy' game. We can't help lining you up looking for the 'most fun,' 'best-looking,' 'most successful' or 'most buff' dad.

Sorry to tell you, but the prize has already been given out, and my dad won. Won the big one. It's true he's no longer very strong, tall or buff, and he forgot about success years ago. But this Heisman of fatherhood is gained through blood, sweat and lots of tears, year after year.

There's no room for bad business deals, skipping morning workouts or neglecting even the most minute of interpersonal relationships. In a word: integrityÑ and my dad's got it.

My father has never veered from his principles, not for one day. Political correctness? A foreign concept, reserved for those too unprincipled to say it like it is. While he knows some things are best left unsaid, when he decides to speak there aren't couched words. Relativism doesn't fly.

Not that I always wanted to hear what he had to say. Quite the opposite. To this day, at 80 and 50, we have our differences Ñ considerable ones. But he'd say: 'The truth sometimes hurts, and I wouldn't be a good father if I didn't say the painful things, too.' This way of thinking Ñ along with a few bold-but-gentle encounters Ñ has given him audiences that become far quieter than any E.F. Hutton ever addressed.

Never for one minute would he have thought of 'using the system' or shorting the tax man. Never would he dream of taking advantage of anyone for anything; never would he knowingly hurt anyone physically, emotionally or financially.

You knew where he stood and you knew where he would stand the same time next year. An anachronism, don't you think?

We were in the chicken house one day, my dad and I, gathering eggs. This chore, loathed above all others, was done in the midst of 5,000 hens milling around with 200 roosters. Those outnumbered males were protective of their girls and distrusting of humans.

Now this thing of slyly hovering roosters suddenly going into attack mode and digging their spurs into my calves had happened once too often, and I promised myself that should it happen again É and of course, it did.

I carefully picked up an egg, raised it high, threw with amazing accuracy and struck the fleeing offender on the head, knocking him out cold. Not funny to Dad, this idea of wasting an egg, brutalizing a rooster and all, and I was sent out of the henhouse.

His voice was raised, as was his arm, pointing to the exit: 'Go, get out of here.'

Not 10 minutes later Dad was at my bedroom door, knocking, saying: 'I know you're probably mad at me. I certainly would be. I'm sorry.' I can hear that apology still. It opened my young eyes to the caliber of the man I called Daddy.

Few adults are willing to apologize for egregious acts, let alone something as innocuous as a few stern words. That was humility exposed, love expressed. He always said that we must try not to raise our voices when angry Ñ it's demeaning Ñ and, if we did, we needed to apologize. He meant it, and he has lived it.

He never told his children he loved them, yet not one of my six siblings or I doubted it. No, he never told us that until one day, he must have sensed he and we were missing out by not mouthing those words.

And though all of us were adults and on our own by then, I'll never forget the first time he tested it out Ñ stammering and ill at ease Ñ but it felt good to hear and must have felt right to say, for now we never arrive or leave without that affirmation.

There are a lot of good fathers out there. The best of you, though, come with a commonality: integrity. This attribute will allow you to persevere, to teach respect, responsibility, compassion and joy in living. And, of course, the ability to say, no matter what: 'I love you.'

Rachel Gerber is a legal secretary in Portland. She lives in Beaverton.