He wasn’t hard on us kids, never struck us…
He used to sing in the car
bought us root beers along the road.
He loved us with his deeds.
(From: “A Father’s Pain,” in A River Remains by Larry Smith)
It’s Father’s Day, and in countless households in North America and the UK, eager youngsters, like my grandchildren, will be excitedly honoring their fathers, whether with homemade art, a special meal, gifts or cards. My youngest granddaughter excitedly told me about the “surprise breakfast” she and her mother were going to serve to my son-in-law—a breakfast-in-bed that has been a ritual each Father’s Day, so while it’s unlikely a surprise for her father, he will show as much excitement as he has before.
Acting as if whatever was presented to him was the most wonderful Father’s Day surprise is something my father also did. Our offerings were meager, given long before commercialism inundated Father’s Day with ads for a variety of expensive gifts. Instead, we made our own cards since the Hallmark supplies were meager, or we baked with our mother’s supervision—cookies, cake or a pie—and my father’s enthusiasm made us feel as if we’d created something truly special for him.
Since then, Father’s Day celebrations have become popular and more expensive. In previous years, retailers made their big push to attract consumers on Mothers’ Day since Father’s Day seemed, in some ways, it seemed like an afterthought. (The holiday was an American invention, made two years after Mother’s Day). In our house, Dad went to work each morning and returned at suppertime. Mother managed the household and was the primary disciplinarian of three spirited children.
Child-rearing practice have since changed from those traditional 1950’s middle class households. Even in the 1970’s and 80’s, as I began rearing my children, parenting practices were shifting. Since then, there have been more than a few subtle shifts in parenting assumptions between mothers and fathers, manifested as a a partnership of shared child-rearing responsibility. Even so, Father’s Day still lags behind the cards, gifts and special dinners that have become part of our Mother’s Day celebrations. More cards, flowers and gifts are traditionally bestowed on mothers than fathers. According to a 2016 article from BBC News.com, the National Retail Federation reported an average of $186 is spent on Mother’s Day compared to $136 for Father’s Day. According to Kyle Murray of the Alberta School of Business, retailers made a big push for a long time on Mother’s Day because demand for gift-giving was strong, and Father’s Day’s seemed, by comparison, more of an afterthought.
As child rearing is more frequently a partnership between husband and wife, fathers do more hands-on parenting and have more emotional relationships with their children than they once did. Not surprisingly then, according to Professor Murray, there is increased emphasis on Father’s Day and retailers’ promotions of the occasion.
Kit Yarrow, psychologist at Golden Gate University in San Francisco, says that because fathers have a deeper and more emotional relationship with their children than in the past, it’s easier to buy presents for them (BBC News. com). Despite the fact my father wasn’t as involved in our day-to-day upbringing as my mother, he provided the emotional glue that held our family together.
My mother was a strong disciplinarian while Dad, was an easy-going, fun-loving and tender-hearted father, whose reluctance to discipline was the result of the physical punishments he endured as a rambunctious child living on a ranch in the 1920’s. It never failed, whenever we stopped by his appliance store and begged for an after school treat at the local drugstore, that he’d produced a shiny quarter from his pants pocket and hand it to us. And many times, just as we opened the door to exit the store, he’d call out, “Hey Kid…how about I come with you?”
Dad taught me many things, among them, the love of a good story and the joy in shared laughter. I also learned to dance standing on my father’s feet as he moved around the living room to a favorite Glen Miller or Benny Goodman tune. He taught me how to pitch a baseball, execute a decent football pass, and fish— even though my mother might have wished I’d chosen more “feminine” activities. Raised by an exceptional cook, he never failed to praise my meager attempts to bake a pie like my grandmother did, often with a too much flour and not nearly enough sugar. Yet even if the pie bordered on inedible, he always ate the ample slice I served, flashed a big smile and said, “My, but this might be the best blackberry pie I ever tasted.”
When my father died of Stage Four lung cancer on Thanksgiving Day, 1992, just three months after his diagnosis, none of his children were ready to let him go. The emptiness I felt in the wake of his death lingered for months afterward. Perhaps my father’s death—and life—is one of the reasons I gravitated to leading expressive writing groups for cancer survivors. Maybe it was the result all those afternoons I sat by his side as he prepared to die and he filled my head and heart with stories from his life. His unique brand of warmth persisted to the end. Even on the day he died, he managed to get to the table for a short time and share the traditional meal with family, even asking for a second piece of pumpkin pie. In my mind, as sad as the day was, I can imagine him smiling as and saying, “I think that might have been the best pumpkin pie I’ve ever eaten.”
This Father’s Day, I’ll celebrate my husband and sons-in-law and but it’s my father’s memory which will be foremost in my mind. I hear the echo of his chuckle yet and remember how he loved to tell a good story. As Jim Harrison wrote in his poem, “Larson’s Holstein Bull,” “death steals everything but our stories.” My father’s legacy lives on in his stories, memories even cancer can never take away.
I miss you everyday— the heartbeat
under your necktie, the hand cupped
on the back of my neck, Old Spice
in the air, your voice delighted with stories.
(From: “Father” in Delights & Shadows by Ted Kooser)
- Write about your father, his memories, stories and legacy—whether loving or painful. What do you remember most about him?
- Write about being a father—what did you learn from your own? How has your father influenced the father you’ve become?
- Write about the holiday, “Father’s Day.” What do you like about it? What annoys you about it? Why?
To all fathers who may read this week’s post, Happy Father’s Day!