To Grads From Dads
Father’s day is weird. The creation of Mother’s day took off immediately by historical standards from its creation by Anna Jarvis in 1905 to its signing in 1914 by Woodrow Wilson into a national holiday. By contrast, Father’s day taxied up to the runway moments after Mother’s day, bounced along in fits and starts for some 50 years until LBJ gave it the all clear and then Nixon finally let it take off in 1972. It seems like the NIT of holidays, the runt of an already packed litter of American holidays. And, I think, deep down inside nearly every committed father sort of knows it too. The comedian Jim Gaffigan, father of five, developed a whole bit on the oddity of the holiday.
This sense of misplaced priority stems, I think, from the seemingly inverse correlation between how well your father raised you and how much you talk about your father, especially as an adult. Fathers are analogous to the CIA in that you only hear about them when they have really screwed up. The sting felt by so many men, women, and children by fathers that never showed up or, when they did, made their children’s lives a living hell is always present in some soul tearing sort of way. Taking a day to honor fathers spotlights a job well done that regularly operates best when the children are unaware.
Dads learn quickly that fathering garners little of your children’s adulation in the moment. To be sure, kids love their dad and, even, admire him, but they also know him as the grumpy guy that takes toys away and makes them clean up and, oh, makes you stand around holding the wrench for when he needs it. A good father has to both treat his children with the respect they deserve and also like uninformed halfwits so they won’t get hurt. Yes, a good father should love their child unconditionally, but everything else, from general hygiene to choosing a spouse, is graded.
Now, I love my dad. He’s a great guy and an excellent father. My siblings and I enjoyed him playing with us, spending time with us, and all the affection he showered on us; but many of those positive feelings I developed for him only happened after I became an adult, then a husband, and finally a father myself. My dad taught me how to work hard, delay gratification, and treat others with dignity and respect. Sure, he failed me sometimes, but that only helped him demonstrate that humility and forgiveness outstrip anything stubbornness and pride might have to offer. Consequently, some of his best moments as a father are the moments I liked him the least. And, I can’t thank him enough.
So, anytime a man treats a woman with respect, even when she does not treat herself with respect–that’s Father’s day to me. When an athlete shows grit and sportsmanship after she loses the big game–that’s Father’s day to me. When a teenager buys her first car after working all year, squirreling her away her earnings–that’s Father’s day to me. After a young man has made a mess of his life and he decides to turn the corner, takes responsibility for his actions and cleans himself up–that’s Father’s day to me. And, after four years, putting off partying with her friends on the weekend to study, she celebrates after she graduates–that’s Father’s day.
Happy Father’s Day to all those grads!