Patriarchalism or Party?

Father’s Day is a “holiday” I treat with great ambivalence. Having barely known my own father, I applaud those dads who devote enough time and energy to their kids to earn a day of recognition. On the other hand, in a society that continues to foster privileges for men in the market and labor worlds, I wonder if men need their own holiday. I suppose one must separate “father” from “men,” since the day is the celebration of an ideal rather than a gender.

“A good man is hard to find,” so the old saying goes. Maybe that’s why there was never a father’s day in the ancient world. Anyone reading the ancient myths, the way that many fathers behaved, well, it’s no wonder they weren’t celebrated! Cronos, in some traditions Cybele’s husband, actually ate his own children. Not much of a motivation for celebration there. Were the gods made in the image of the metaphorical fathers?

In the United States the first Father’s Day was observed in Fairmont, West Virginia in July 1908. It has been suggested that a mine disaster that had killed over 350 men nearby was the inspiration for the day. About two years later in Creston, Washington, Sonora Smatt Dodd celebrated her father who’d raised six kids mostly by himself. President Woodrow Wilson was famously celebrated by his own family, and President Calvin Coolidge proposed the holiday in 1924. An early supporter of Father’s Day was the politician William Jennings Bryan, famous for his stand on what he understood as family values. President Lyndon Johnson set the day as the third Sunday in June. Father’s Day only became official in 1972, under President Richard Nixon. Still, it seems to be a day established by men for men, smacking a little too much of the self-congratulatory.

Back before cell phones were invented, Father’s Day was the biggest day of the year for collect phone calls. Perhaps that phenomenon is the essence of the holiday. From those to whom more is given, more should be expected.

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