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Sunday, June 16, 2013

Father’s Day…

P. rutulus on delphs“It’s like a Roman holiday,” the old saying goes because of the Romans’ penchant for festivity and celebration; more days of the Roman calendar were a  holiday of some sort than the mundane, daily routines of life. We Americans love our holidays, too, and add them to the calendar at the drop of a hat. (Ever wonder why the public schools are in session until nearly the end of June? ) Much of this holiday questing, of course, is commercially driven: the Father’s Day cards, the Father’s Day commercials (“Surprise Dad with an RV of his very own!”), Father’s Day meals, Dad’s favorite electronic gadget. Neckties (although I’ve never been gifted one, but I’ll take the tie over the RV any day). Don’t know what to get Dad? Waited until the last minute, did you? How about an instant gift card from

Along with their holidays,  Americans love equity and so two years after the formal observance of the first Mother’s Day in 1908, someone thought, “Hey, one can’t really exist without the other (biologically speaking), so why not honor dear Ol’ Dad, too?” That “someone” was Sonora Smart Dodd, an uprooted Arkansan who settled, of all places, in Spokane, Washington,where the day was first observed, fittingly so, at a Spokane YMCA. Ms. Dodd thought fathers had been given short shrift and should be celebrated for their role in the family unit. (Given the fact that today’s dads, on the average, spend seven hours a week on childcare, up from the two and a half hours a few years ago, fathers’ celebratory day seems a bit undeserved.) Actually, then, Father’s Day is just an afterthought, which, it seems to me, “cheapens the gift”somewhat. The afterthought languished for about twenty years until once again Ms. Dodd, recruiting the help of retailers who would benefit most by the observance of a Father’s Day, once again pushed her crusade and the holiday finally stuck.

Far be it from me to speak for the other fathers out there, but on this day, June 17, 2013, it’s not so much my own paternity I think of but that of my dad’s. I remember how strange it seemed the Father’s Day after his passing. As with any other holiday, it’s in your face marketing the month, week, day before the holiD-day. No matter what the store, when I passed the greeting card display with its special section of Father’s Day cards, I was struck by the fact that I would never again visit that card section prior to Father’s Day, carefully read through the selections for just that perfect sentiment, that message with words meant from the heart of a son to a  father who in so many ways was a larger than life figure .

Due to a number of issues currently involving our family, circumstances so played out ( more specifically: life happens) that I would be by myself this Father’s Day…just the cat and me (and the cat only wakes at 4:00 p.m.  for his treats). Thirty-four years and four months I’ve been a father and on this day I would be alone, separated from my immediate family, especially from my wife, daughter and grandson. I’ve been thinking about that the past few days and tried to tell myself it was no big deal, that it’s only a day, a day that is of more import to retailers than its proxy celebrants. I think of my dad, who I’m sure relished his infrequent opportunities to be alone, welcomed the slightest respite from six brawling children. Dad even preferred doing up the Sunday morning dishes to chaperoning six children to Sunday school and church. I think, also, it was our family tribe that made my father want to escape a hectic household and flee to the solitude of the riverbank; whether he caught a fish or not was secondary to a momentary reprieve from being the family man. But as far as I know, Dad was never alone on Father’s Day.

Again, on this day I think of my father, my failings as a son, my desire to learn about the hopes and dreams he had for his life. These are questions you need answered. Ask them when you have the chance; don’t let the moment slip away. I missed that opportunity. The chance was there. Dad and I were alone one afternoon after lunch, sitting together in the living room of my parents' house. “I should ask him now,” I thought, “ while the two of us are here alone.” As I was phrasing my questions, I looked up, and Dad was napping. “Let him sleep,” I told myself, “he deserves it,” and the opportunity and the moment slipped away and that was that.

There must be a current in the ether that signals those we love that their company is needed; blood is thicker than water, I’ve heard. Isn’t that how the saying goes? Today around noon I received a phone call from my daughter. Turns out “Life” has happened to  her, too. Would I mind if she spent the afternoon with Dad on this Father’s Day? And could he spare some time for his grandson? You know my answers—especially if you, on this Father’s Day, are fathers yourselves.

I’m currently reading a biography of the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay. A passage in the book was, as a father myself, heartrending to me. Edna’s father, Henry Tolman Millay, was estranged from his wife and three daughters for a good part of their lives. All his promises-- sincere, I believe--were never kept: sending money to support a struggling mother and wife with three daughters. Promises to visit “his girls” when he could afford it, proved hollow. Before he died,  Millay requested his celebrity daughter Edna send him a few dollars for his medical care (amounts no greater than those he’d promised his daughters he’d send them) because his pride couldn’t bear state assistance.

Henry Tolman Millay died 20, December, 1935. None of his three daughters attended his funeral. Sad, so incredibly sad….

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