The Daily Heller: For Me, an Unusually Sentimental Post-Father’s Day Musing

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(Author’s note: This originally ran on the Monday after Father’s Day, June 20, 2022. Pop would have turned 106 tomorrow and expected to do so. I never really said a proper goodbye when he passed, and I regret that.)

Although Father’s Day was founded by Sonora Smart Dodd in 1910 at the YMCA in Spokane, WA, let’s be frank: There wouldn’t be a Father’s Day if there wasn’t a greeting card industry in the USA, where everything is filtered through a profit and loss ledger. The now-super-sanctified Mother’s Day was a crumb thrown to hardworking domestic moms who held the family together through sacrifice, rigor and affection, so that businesses mostly owned by men could earn seasonal revenues. Father’s Day was a like-minded way to monetize sentiment.

If this seems cynical: Yes, it is! I was raised to believe that the profit motive indeed incentivized all “special day” merchandise. I’ll save my jaundiced retelling of the history of such commercial/sentimental phenomena for another time. For now, just one day after the 2022 special day, I want to seriously reflect on fatherhood.

Let’s not forget there would be no Father’s Day if there were no fathers. That it takes two to make life is the one quantifiable fact I learned in Hygiene class at P.S. 40 (thank you for your candor, Mrs. Diamond—oh, and the visual aids). I had a father (a lovely, caring guy), who had a father (a sweet, generous man), who must have had a father, too (although the family tree is missing some branches, since he was never discussed or photographed; for all I know, he might have been some wild Caucasian Cossack or amorous shtetl elder).

Beyond commerce, why shouldn’t my father (and others like him) be recognized as the guy who codified the laws of his home, monitored the time allotted to watching TV, negotiated and distributed allowances, served as Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny and Santa Claus, did the shopping and shuttled the family to and from relatives in the Bronx? Without this official commemoration, he was just the guy who was always around, except when he wasn’t. Father’s Day was necessary validation for him, and reinforcement for me.

In my home, Father’s Day was, therefore, rigorously observed. Each year I saved up out of my own meager allowance the funds to buy him a card and gift, which accounted for a not-insignificant chunk of my on-the-books income (off-the-books being the loose change I’d regularly pilfer from his coat pockets). Conversely, he’d always give me the money to pay for a Mother’s Day card and gift. My father’s birthday was so close (and sometimes even coincided with Father’s Day), I could cheat and get away with getting him one gift to cover both events. (Incidentally, today he would have turned 105. He died in 2011.)

Mom and dad, long before they imagined me and all the meshugas that came with me.

As I got older, I came to realize that Father’s Day was more than an enforced ritual. It was a reminder that fathers deserved more than could be paid back in cash. The commercial hoopla was just a smoke screen for a true thanksgiving. What seemed like a chore became a good excuse to express appreciation for all he did that was easily forgotten as partly the routines of life.

What I’m trying to say, since I am a veteran father, is that commercial motives aside, Father’s Day is less about obligatory sentiment (like a ubiquitous “Best Dad Ever” mug) and more of an opportunity to say something deep and meaningful. Now, if only the greeting card and novelty companies would design something without gimmicks that seconds that emotion.

If you missed it, yesterday was officially Father’s Day. However, so is today, tomorrow, and every day thereafter.

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