Father’s Day may be just another Hallmark holiday, but Emily Heist Moss is reminded this week of how lucky she is to have her dad.
My uncle died two years ago this week. Though younger than my mom, he’d married his high school sweetheart and had a handful of kids while my mother was still living in Europe and earning a bunch of degrees. By the time I came around, he’d racked up a decade of parenting know-how. On the anniversary of his death I think about his legacy as a family man, and how, indirectly, it shaped my relationship with my dad.
My parents had been divorced for ages when my uncle passed away, and my dad had inevitably lost touch with the other side of the family. When I called him to share the news, he told me that when I was born, he’d looked to my uncle as the model of how to be a good father. My grandfather was long gone and my dad didn’t have any brothers. My uncle, he said, took this incredible joy from being around his kids and created the kind of home where his kids wanted to hang out. My dad looked around that house, filled with laughter and fun, and knew that that was the kind of dad he wanted to be.
When I didn’t know what to say to my grieving cousins about their overwhelming loss, I told them what my dad had told me. I wanted them to know that the kind of love that their father had sent into the world had spread.
The first Father’s Day celebration was held in Spokane, Washington, in 1910. It was spearheaded by Sonora Dodd to honor her father, a Civil War veteran who raised six children after his wife died in childbirth. While Mother’s Day became a national holiday in 1914, it took half a century for Father’s Day to get the same treatment. President Johnson issued the proclamation in 1966 and President Nixon made it permanent in 1972. Today, of course, any semblance of critical thinking around the holiday or the evolution of fatherhood as an institution has been usurped by Hallmark and co.
Facebook thinks I should buy my dad a gift card to Outback Steakhouse to thank him for his 25 years of love and support. Amazon is suggesting a coffee table book called Dads Are The Original Hipsters featuring a mustachioed man who looks remarkably like my dad circa 1987. My local high-end boutiques have silk ties with boats on them and beard trimming kits. Quick, buy stuff! Grab a card that makes fun of him for being old! Find a gadget associated with a particularly dad-like hobby (camping, grilling, puttering in the garage)! Mail something, anything, so we feel like we’ve done our duty. Done! Whew, now we can wait until next year until we have to think about this again!
Except, arbitrary Sunday in June aside, I’m finding myself thinking about fatherhood a lot lately. It might be because a few friends have lost their fathers in recent years, and it puts into perspective what’s at stake. It might be because, silly as it seems, the parenting I see on TV articulates what I feel especially lucky to have avoided. The anti-heroes dominate these days, from Mad Men’s Don Draper to Breaking Bad’s Walter White. They are selfish and self-absorbed, largely incapable of recognizing the emotional needs of their children. If their kids learn by observing, as most do, all they will have gleaned is how to inauthentically engage with the world. How Not to Parent 101, courtesy of AMC.
There are “new” models of fatherhood available to us now, too. Will Arnett as the stay-at-home dad on Up All Night and Marshall Erickson as a progressive parent on How I Met Your Mother are two obvious examples. And the men of Modern Family, of course, offer four different versions of fatherhood that are goofy and slapstick, perhaps, but seriously engaged in the business of raising happy, healthy kids. What all of the new models have in common is the belief, like my uncle, that fatherhood is supposed to be fun. Rather than a thing foisted on you by the expectations of an era, the new guys are opting in.
Do you ever listen to other people on the phone with their family, or catch a particularly egregious bit of conversation between a parent and a child, and send a silent thank you to the heavens for blessing you with reasonable parents? A mother in a department store tells her adolescent daughter that she’s a bitch. A father ignores his kid’s questions on the train to spend some more time with his smart phone. A relative posts a moronic joke about protecting his daughter’s virginity with a shotgun. These petty incidents are just common enough to remind me how good at parenting my parents actually are.
So happy Father’s Day, Dad, your sailboat tie is in the mail!
Photo courtesy of the author
Role/Reboot regular contributor Emily Heist Moss is a New Englander in love with Chicago, where she works in a tech start-up. She blogs every day about gender, media, politics and sex at Rosie Says, and has written for Jezebel, The Frisky, The Huffington Post and The Good Men Project. Find her on Facebook and Twitter.