Whereas Woodrow Wilson made Mother’s Day an official holiday in 1914, what president do you think was responsible for signing Father’s Day into law?
I bet you didn’t guess Lincoln, or Garfield, or Grant, or any of the presidents that came before Wilson, right? That’s because you know instinctively that Father’s Day was made a holiday after Mother’s Day.
Well, the surprising thing is how much later Father’s Day came along. You’d think that once Mother’s Day was a national holiday, they’d almost have to give fathers equal time, right?
They did…68 years later…when Richard Nixon made a proclamation. Yup, Richard Nixon. Watergate and Father’s Day. And that’s really all you need to know about Father’s Day: it was history’s most delayed afterthought.
Why do you suppose that is? Certainly, America has been slow to recognize women in other ways, like at the voting booth or on paychecks. But it has always valued mothers. Maybe it’s because it didn’t have one.
George Washington was a great general. George Washington was a great president. George Washington accomplished many great things in his 67 years of life.
And do you know why George Washington accomplished so much? Because he didn’t have any children. At least not with his wife. There were Martha’s two kids from a previous marriage, but they were either dead or grown up by the time George started doing all that really great stuff.
It’s rumored that, although Martha was a fine-looking woman except for a few extra chins and a pelican-like pouch on her neck, Washington may have gotten all Jeffersonian with the slaves and had children with them. But even if that’s true, those children were never hanging around going “Daddy, can you stop picking a place for the national seat of government and play with us?”
So to sum up, America had no mother, and its father had no children. No wonder we’re so screwed up.
My own personal father was never like what I thought fathers should be. Of course, what I thought fathers should be was like the ones I saw on TV. They were slightly bumbling. They were mostly clueless. They wore suits and ties to dinner. They tripped over ottomans. But they were always there with sage advice for Richie, or the Beaver, or Kitten, or Chip. Because, in the end, they always knew best. Except, perhaps, when it came to naming their kids.
You were never really clear about what most of the TV dads did for a living. You knew that Ralph Kramden drove a bus, and Major Nelson was an astronaut, and Darrin Stephens worked in advertising, but they didn’t have kids. (Darrin’s daughter Tabitha came along later, after Darrin apparently had massive plastic surgery.*)
But except for Rob Petrie, who wrote a television show, the dads on TV just seemed to wear suits for a living. In the early 60’s, the only fathers on TV who didn’t wear suits were Andy Taylor (sheriff’s uniform), Ben Cartwright (chaps) and Fred Flintstone (whatever that animal print thing was). And even Fred wore a tie to work! The non-suited dads, like Dan Connor and Archie Bunker, didn’t arrive until the 70’s.
My dad wore dark blue pants and a jacket as he drove a refrigerated truck all day delivering bacon and cold cuts to delis and bodegas in the worst neighborhoods of Manhattan and the Bronx. He usually got home after mom and I had eaten. He watched a TV show or maybe a Mets game, and went to sleep, because he’d be up at 5am the next day.
I don’t remember any particular skill I learned from him, or any words to live by that he may have passed on. Don’t get me wrong; he wasn’t a bad father by any means. There was certainly no abuse, no alcoholism, no abandonment, none of that Lifetime movie stuff. He just wasn’t that involved with me, in that very 50’s style of fathering.
He wasn’t like the dads on TV. We weren’t very close. But he was my dad. And he was always there.
I guess that’s better than some.
See you soon.
*Actually, the original Darrin was replaced by another actor midway through the run of Bewitched with no acknowledgment of why Samantha’s husband was suddenly a different person with the same name. It was a simpler time, and we didn’t ask questions.