A word on Father’s Day

This annual day celebrating fatherhood, paternal bonds, and the influence of fathers in society took almost 80 years to become an accepted “holiday.” It was first proposed as a celebration in 1909, but as late as 1957 people were still lukewarm at best. Although made a permanent holiday in 1972, as if Sunday weren’t already a holiday, it wasn’t until the mid-1980s that the people most active in the creation, establishment, and cementing of Father’s Day could declare that it had become a “Second Christmas.”

Who were these people? And for whom exactly, was the Second Christmas?

They were the Father’s Day Council of course, founded by the New York Associated Men’s Wear Retailers.

It’s easy to write Father’s Day off as another crass American marketing event, because that’s exactly what it is. What’s more difficult is to understand why Mother’s Day was embraced so quickly, and Father’s Day took almost a century to gain a foothold. And despite the Second Coming for the menswear retailers, Father’s Day is still viewed by many as a joke holiday.

“What do I want for Father’s Day? To be left the fuck alone,” quoth many a father, wryly or not.

Proposed in 1905, by 1911 every U.S. state had a Mother’s Day celebration, and in 1914 President Wilson signed the official Mother’s Day proclamation giving it a national designation. Nor was Mother’s Day a new thing. Variations of it have have existed throughout the world over thousands of years, including the Greek cult to Cybele, the mother god Rhea, the Roman festival of Hilaria, and countless others lost to time that doubtless were created coextensive with the birth of mankind itself. Where Congress and the President dallied for decades before taking Father’s Day seriously, people couldn’t sign the Mother’s Day proclamation fast enough.

This proves an iron law, of course: Don’t piss off mom.

Mother’s Day makes sense. Moms do the pregnanting, the birthing, the suckling, the rearing, the feeding, the housing, the clothing, the protecting, the loving, whereas dads essentially plant the seed and hustle back to the group ride.

And despite their minimal contribution to the world’s weal, dads hog all the power. They do all the raping, the killing, the conquering, the ass-beating, the fierce disciplining, the imprisoning, the lazying, the money-hoarding, the enslaving, the stock-marketing, and to top it off, they do all the glorying as well.

Dads are the champions of history, the heroes of novels, the writers of epic poems, the lovers par excellence, the athletes nonpareil, the adventurers chock full of derring-do, and most awfully, the chroniclers of their own made-up, puffed-up, overinflated, or wholly fabricated exploits. That is, they also get to write the damned history as well.

No wonder Father’s Day caught on so slowly. Every person with a father was well aware that the last thing dads need is another excuse to be special. As Freud pointed out in Moses and Monotheism, the most natural instinct of any son at all is to kill his father, and the sooner the better. Honor him with (more) gifts and (more) special events? Uh, no. Fukk no.

Yet without caving into the wishes of the New York Associated Men’s Wear Retailers, it also bears noting that dads are (occasionally) humans too. And while they may not be especially sympathetic humans, they are, like the rest of us, riven with the doubts, regrets, sorrows, and travails otherwise known as life. And while they may have been the absentee seed-planter who administered the random beating, chances are that they were also the one who taught you how to ride a bike, or at least how not to cry when you fell.

Dad may have been the person who first took you camping, who showed you how to bait a hook, who first played catch with you, who made and flew your first kite together, who let you curl up in the crook of his arm at night and read you a story. He may have been the person who taught you right from wrong, who taught you to stick up for the little guy, who believed that words were stronger than guns.

He may not have always been there when you needed him most.

But then again, maybe he was.

Love you, Dad.


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7 thoughts on “A word on Father’s Day”

  1. Yes. This. Clearly I need to start reading these again! When did you start writing so well? 🙂

    I just baked a fresh loaf of sourdough for my dad, and we’re headed out for a lunch visit on the patio. Can’t wait!

    Happy Dad’s day, Seth.

  2. I taught my kids to ride bikes, after toting them around on the back of my bikes, and while our daughter isn’t enamored enough with the sport to sink thousands of dollars into bikes, kits, etc.etc., our son learned to work on them, ride them in San Francisco to work and for fun, and built an ex-girlfriend a classic steel mixti so she could ride with him. My husband, their father, taught them compassion, forgiveness, how to love, how to camp, hike and enjoy and love nature without disturbing it (much), how to be responsible, how to embrace inclusivity, and how to live with a partner for decades. I miss my dad and yet seeing my husband co-parent and love his family to the moon and back has been one of my greatest joys. It’s a good life. And happy Father’s Day, Sean.

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