My wife asked me what I wanted to do on Father’s Day.
I think it was a rhetorical question. For months now the options to do anything have been pretty slim.
“You mean like watch Netflix or go for a walk or wear a mask?”
I have never quite understood Father’s Day. It seems like an also ran kind of holiday to me. Like it was created as an afterthought to Mother’s Day. Oh, look what we forgot.
And this is not far from the truth. The bookend to celebrate the male side of parenting was invented by a woman on Mother’s Day in 1908. A man would never have been so thoughtful. Like necessity, Father’s Day is the mother of invention.
Even then, Father’s Day was not all that popular. It wasn’t until Richard Nixon picked up a pen in 1972 that the day became signed into law as a national holiday, thanks to decades of relentless lobbying by trade groups seeking to increase sales of ties and lighter fluid.
I appreciate that Father’s Day is a day for children to honor the male figure in their lives, but isn’t that what I signed up for when I became a father? Since when do I need to be recognized for doing my job, which admittedly I sometimes do badly? And if it is so important, don’t I deserve something more than brunch and the opportunity to grill dinner for my family on the Weber?
Because there is nothing that says male parent quite like throwing raw meat on a fire.
I am not the world’s greatest dad. On a scale from one to Andy Griffith, I am probably closer to Homer Simpson. And I sometimes wonder what I have taught my children, other than what not to wear.
But I like to think that I have given them a solid set of values, a notion of how to treat other people, an appreciation of hard work, and an ability to laugh at themselves and the world around them. And watching my children grow, I think I am succeeding. But I haven’t done this alone, and certainly without guidance.
Which is precisely why we celebrate Mother’s Day.
But the real problem I have with Father’s Day is that it now belongs only to me. The apostrophe before the s makes it so.
This year I no longer have a dad to call on Father’s Day. He slipped from his role silently, leaving the apostrophe in my care. Being a country apart, I ritually called him on the third Sunday in June in California to wish him a Happy Father’s Day. We didn’t talk long, we didn’t need to. But I felt it was important to acknowledge what he meant to me, even if I didn't specifically address it in conversation. And for his part, he didn’t really care that it was Father’s Day. He just liked hearing from me. At any time.
My three kids, all in their early twenties, are home. They have been since March, through no plans of their own. But as difficult as the situation is for them, I have to selfishly confess that it is a joy to have them around.
Other than the grocery bills, of course. They eat a lot.
And I recognize that this extended time together is to be cherished, because when this pandemic is over and distance is no longer socially regulated, they will eagerly resume their scattered paths upward and outward once again.
And surprisingly, being with me is not a destination, maybe not even a rest stop.
Before long, our time all together as a family will be relegated to major holidays and special events. And perhaps even then, it will be sporadic. It certainly won’t be on the lesser of the parenting days. The one devoted to fathers.
But I know they will call.
This is what I want to do on Father’s Day. Be with my family. Yes, I know it is an unimaginative, dad sort of thing to say. But if I didn’t say it, what kind of dad would I be?
On Father’s Day I am going to sit in my dad’s car for fifteen minutes. Like the apostrophe, it is mine now. But it still feels like him. I will wish him a Happy Father’s Day because whether or not he is here, he still inhabits me.
Then I am going to enjoy brunch and a Bloody Mary. Or two.
And in the evening, I will fire up the Weber and throw meat on the fire for my family. Maybe some veggies too.
And in between?
I am thinking maybe water balloons in the backyard.
Because there is nothing that says male parent quite like acting the kid.