Father's Day Is For Stepfathers, Too

Anthony Mason and his stepfather, Henry Koehler, in an undated family photo.
Should Father's Day be devoted solely to our fathers? Not in the Opinion of our Anthony Mason:

"Today, Father, is Father's Day,
And we're giving you a tie."

That old Groucho Marx song used to make my dad double over in laughter. Every Father's Day, I'd call him up and sing him the chorus:

"According to our mother, you're our father,
And that's good enough for us."

Last year, I sang it one last time. A few days later Dad died of cancer. He was 92.

I owe my career to my Dad. In 1980 after I came home from college, he confronted me one day:

"So," he said, "what are you gonna do with the rest of your life?"

"I'm gonna write a novel," I said.

He paused, then said: "Not in this house, you're not."

A few months later, through his efforts, I reported for work at a TV station in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

My Dad, Jonathan Mason, was a lifelong Wall Streeter. In the '60s he helped start the Japan Fund. He loved everything Japanese, especially my stepmother, Natsuki.

People often say, "You only have one father." But I've learned it's more complicated - if you have a stepfather. And I'm thinking about him, too, this Father's Day.

I was just 7 years old, when my Mom took me to an artist's studio in New York to meet a painter named Henry Koehler. It was June 12, 1963. I remember the date only because he wrote it down on the back of a picture he asked me to draw that day . . . a picture of an artichoke.

It seemed a pretty odd request at the time. But when my Mom became Mrs. Henry Koehler, I found out he was in his "artichoke period." And when we moved in with him, I saw he'd framed my childish artichoke and hung it amongst his own.

We didn't know what to call him at first. Not "Dad." And first names seemed too informal then. We settled on "Uncle Henry."

Uncle Henry didn't try to assume a fatherly role. He just led by example. And I saw how much he loved my Mom and how hard he worked.

That first year, as the New York Mets opened Shea Stadium, they commissioned my stepfather to paint some pictures of the team. Casey Stengel, the Mets' manager, even came to our house to see them.

Okay, this new guy was pretty cool!

He's painted lots of notable commissions . . . a cover of Sports Illustrated . . . a U.S. postage stamp . . . portraits of Jack & Jackie Kennedy sailing . . . Prince Charles on his polo pony . . . Bill Paley, who founded CBS.

But my favorites are the family pictures. My kids. My wife. And one of my Mom, who'd always dreamed of a gondola ride. He called it "Venice, finally."

Mom died last summer, too, just three weeks after Dad. It was a rough season for our family.

Afterwards, Uncle Henry and I spent hours in the attic searching for old photographs for her memorial service. Quietly, he put aside pictures of himself, too. "So you don't have to do this again when I go," he said.

But at 82, he's still working. Henry Koehler has filled my world with images and colors that have influenced the way I see everything - kind of important for a kid in television.

So this Father's Day, I'll be thinking about my Dad (left) and humming Groucho's song in my head.

But I'll also call Uncle Henry and tell him how proud I am to be his stepson.