As I look back on Father’s Day over the years I return to memories of being a teenager in the 1960s. I learned the definition of “disconnect.” I watched popular television shows of the time, with their perfectly formed fathers. Then, I looked around my house and saw something different.
My father did not have the warmth of Andy Taylor on “The Andy Griffith Show,” and he did not have the steely strength of Ben Cartwright on “Bonanza.” He couldn’t dance or sing like Rob Petrie on “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” and he certainly didn’t have the patience of Steven Douglas, the all-knowing dad on “My Three Sons.”
My father DID have a world-weary look that followed him home five days a week from his mid-level job in an electronics company. He would settle into his chair before and after dinner with the three daily newspapers delivered to our house. He might remind his kids to do their homework or to pick up their clothes. Or he might not.
Generally, my brother, three sisters and I did not get arrested, thrown out of school, vandalize a park or anything else that might have forced him to interact with people outside our home. He left us to our own devices.
He had no mechanical skills, but he would buy cars that did not run and bring them home and expect me to make them drivable. He gave me tools, but no advice.
His hands-off style of parenting left much to my mother to fill in. But as a nurse and primary breadwinner of the family, she wasn’t blessed with the time to play both parental roles. Again, if she didn’t have to talk to school principals, she let us run our own lives.
As such, I promised myself that when I became a father, I would be completely different. And, when my daughters were small, I was the involved dad. School programs, outdoor activities, and all the family stuff that Parenting magazine tells us we, as dads, should be doing.
Not in the DNA
But the fact is, my daughters pretty quickly developed interests, made friends and found their own paths. I can’t be sure if I was sending them some sort of signal, or if DNA was involved. But they have turned out to be pretty independent folks. One of them has kids of her own, and I am waiting in the wings to see how those kids will evolve.
We have a family hierarchy for recognizing traditional holidays. Christmas (or more accurately, Christmas season) is a must-do, must-see holiday and involves travel. But as kids grow, leave home and create their own families, getting far-flung people in the same room on Dec. 25 is all but impossible. But we make the effort to get together “sometime around” Christmas. Sometimes we can connect on birthdays, but no one has a fit if it doesn’t happen.
Father’s Day has no requirements, and as social media has all but killed the greeting card industry, I do not expect a card from my daughters. Phone calls or dumb memes now fulfill the communication requirement for Father’s Day.
But I’ll be honest until he got into his 60s, I never gave my own father an honest effort in celebrating the day. If I was in the same town, we might end up watching a Cubs game on TV. If not, I would call and we would talk about the Cubs game on TV.
I’m not sure how Andy Taylor and Steven Douglas would feel about my lack of effort, but I suspect Ben Cartwright would have been OK if Hoss, Adam and Little Joe didn’t send a card.
The whole Father’s Day thing didn’t even surface until 1910, and it was isolated in the state of Washington. It took 58 more years for it to be declared a national holiday. But even that Nixon-era declaration was kind of half-baked. Father’s Day occurs on a Sunday, so employers aren’t cornered into making it a paid holiday. Restaurants put virtually no effort into making it a marketable event–especially compared to Mother’s Day. Among the so-called “major holidays” it has always been low on the list of effort for most kids.
So, I won’t chide my daughters for not buying a card, or digging in a drawer for the last stamp they bought more than two years ago. Nor will I worry if I don’t get a call from them on that Sunday. At some point, a text or a Facebook message with a meme that features Dr. Who or Darth Vader will show up.
And I will be a proud dad that they are making their own lives with their husbands and families. And, I know I will see them at Christmas.