This post was originally published at smerconish.com
Once again, Father’s Day is upon us, and as someone who both had a father and is a father, I cannot stress enough just how much of an unnecessary and even horrible idea this Hallmark-generated faux holiday is. To understand just why I and most fathers actually dread this day, let us first understand why it exists in the first place.
The obvious answer is because there’s a Mother’s Day. Mother’s Day was originally the idea of Ann Reeves Jarvis, who after the Civil War, tried to heal a divided town in West Virginia by bringing together mothers of Confederate and Union soldiers. While it helped heal the rift in that one particular town, Ann was unsuccessful in her life’s mission to make Mother’s Day a yearly thing.
But in 1908, Jarvis’s daughter, Anna Jarvis (who was never a mother herself) wanted to honor her mother by finally making Mother’s Day a national holiday. Anna convinced John Wanamaker, the founder of one of the great department stores of the 20th century, to sponsor a service dedicated to mothers in Philadelphia.
Shortly after the aforementioned service to honor mothers, gifts and tokens of appreciation could be purchased for said moms at the Wanamaker store. Needless to say, Wannamaker, as well as his competitors saw the potential profit from this new holiday. The following year, Mother’s day was celebrated in 45 states, and in 1914 President Wilson approved a resolution that made it a national holiday. Mothers and merchants across the country rejoiced.
According to the National Retail Federation, 86 percent of Americans will participate in Mother’s Day, spending an average of $180 per person for a total of $23.1 billion. Believing that one can never have too much of a good thing, merchants began to campaign for a similar holiday, or as they referred to it, a “Second Christmas” for fathers.
But they were unable to generate to the same enthusiasm. As a florist of the day reportedly explained, “fathers haven’t the same sentimental appeal that mothers have.” But every year, merchants would promote an unofficial Father’s Day and suggested alongside manufacturers that what dad would really appreciate would be a tie or a pipe, maybe a hat or socks, or perhaps even golf clubs.
Due to the makeup of the employment force during the first half of the century, it would be Dad himself who eventually had to pay for those unwanted gifts. This realization was featured in cynical and sarcastic jokes as part of Father’s Day advertisements aimed at wives. And so Father’s day remained an unofficial holiday until 1972 when Richard Nixon responded to a question about his Vietnam withdrawal strategy by pledging to make Father’s Day a national holiday.
Once again, mothers and merchants across the country rejoiced- though not as much. Just 77 percent of Americans will celebrate Father’s Day, spending only $133 per person for a total of $15.3 billion. When considering the lower expenditure for Father’s Day, it is important to remember that it’s basically the same person reaching into his pocket for both holidays.
There is also the common misconception that Father’s Day is just a masculine version of Mother’s Day. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. Mother’s Day is the province of wives and mothers who have numerous desires and expectations regarding how their day should be celebrated. Some of those notions are voiced outwardly and readily apparent, while others are closely held secrets which husbands and fathers are none the less expected to miraculously divine. Husbands and fathers, on the other hand, have merely one desire in life: not to be yelled at. The longer the relationship, the deeper that desire.
Thanks to the marketing efforts of Hallmark, mothers expect to receive a card from anyone who is even tangentially associated with her being a mother. That includes husbands, in-laws, assorted family members, and even friends. And if you’re the kind of person who likes to give funny cards, a second, more serious one, is definitely recommended and obviously taken to heart, because according to Hallmark, the 82.5 million moms in the U.S. received roughly nearly twice that number of Mother’s Day cards.
As for the actual Mother’s Day experience, it goes something like this: mom wakes up and is greeted by the entire family with flowers, cards, breakfast, and gifts. Dad is not only required to have chosen and paid for them but also to have figured out exactly what his wife would like without any of her input. After all, if he had been paying attention, he would know.
It’s basically a test in which there is no correct answer. After that, it’s out to brunch at an over-packed restaurant (which has raised its prices and limited its menu just for this day). From there, it’s on to some family outing that mom has always desired to do, but none of the rest of the family wished to engage in. Finally, we cap the day with a visit to yet another crowded restaurant. It’s everything a mother and John Wannamaker could have asked for.
The Father’s Day celebration is somewhat similar on the surface, with cards, shirts or ties, a family outing to a restaurant (where dad drives and pays) and ending with the traditional BBQ cooked by Dad. That’s the reality- but what does dad really want for Father’s Day?
Absolutely nothing. He doesn’t need a tie, or a shirt or some sports equipment, which he’s paying for anyway, in order to be shown that he’s needed and appreciated.
Why? Because dads are reminded that they are fathers and needed every day from the moment their children are born. Assembling cribs, schlepping baby paraphernalia, driving the kids, helping build school projects, teaching sports, fixing things, more driving, going to plays and sports events, filming all the events, introducing them to classic movies and music, teaching them how to drive, slipping them a few extra bucks when they need it and a few when they don’t. You know you are a father 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and even though all you get in return are eye rolls, the “Oh Dad,” and an occasional “Thanks” as they head out the door, it’s all you really need.
So how should Father’s Day be celebrated? Easy- the wife and kids get up early and leave. They get breakfast, see a movie, go to the mall, whatever they want, they do, and don’t worry because dad’s paying. Let Dad sleep late. When he wakes, there are no plans, no chores, no activities that need to be done. No, on this one day he gets to sit on the couch and watch baseball or a movie or read a book or pretty much anything he wants without any interruption.
He gets to imbibe his favorite beverage or two and indulge in a food choice that he knows, no one in the family would approve of. For one day a year, he gets to recapture a little bit of the days of his youth. No responsibilities, no expectations, no one to placate or mollify, no one to please but himself. And when everyone returns at the end of the day, don’t ask him what he did all day because the answer won’t satisfy, just know that he’s delighted you’re all back.
For that one day out of the year, dad doesn’t need Father’s Day. But he’d enjoy a Not Father’s Day.