After doing a little research, I was surprised to find that Father’s Day is not just one of those Hallmark-made-it-up to-sell-overpriced-greeting-cards holidays.
Father’s Day goes all the way back to the middle ages. It grew out of a Catholic feast day dedicated to St. Joseph, the human father of Jesus Christ. It didn’t get much further outside the Catholic traditions in America, however, until the early 1900s, when a mining accident in West Virginia killed more than 350 miners, most of them fathers, and inspired a local Methodist Church to stage a celebration honoring all fathers.
It took a few years for the idea to spread to other Methodist churches and organizations and a few more years after that before it became popular in mainstream America and retailers caught on and started turning it into yet another gotta-get-a-card-and-a-gift sales bonanza.
Father’s Day is nowhere near as easy as Mother’s Day for most children, of any age. For moms, the sappier, the more saccharine the card you get her the better, but for dad’s the cards available all too often veer sharply between gruff respect and ribald and/or juvenile humor. Flowers, candy and jewelry always fit the bill for moms but for dads the gifts are harder to choose. Singing plastic fish seem to be just as popular as really useful and appreciated things like a new drill bit set or as thoroughly useless as yet another plaid shirt.
The only good thing I’ve found about getting older and losing your parents is that you can finally stop torturing yourself every year by putting yourself through the whole Mother’s/Father’s Day rigamarole of buying and delivering cards and gifts. Good is a relative term, however.
My dad has been gone since 1992. He died suddenly, of natural causes, at the end of a long and busy day of working, first at his job, then trucking my younger siblings around, then working around the house, and in the yard. He had turned 57 years old the day before he died.
My dad was my best friend, the one I turned to for advice and support, for entertainment, for education. We talked, all the time, about anything you could possibly think of. He had an endless supply of time and patience for telling stories, from what happened that day, to what could have happened a million years ago, to what might happen in the days to come.
My dad loved to talk and he loved words, but he also was an artist, a doodler of cartoons, as well as landscapes and portraits. For a while, he designed fonts for a living, creating logos and brand characters by hand for the retail advertising department at a big city newspaper.
He was a born salesman, and used his gift of gab to schmooze clients and sold a wide variety of things, from cars to vacuum cleaners, shoes to advertising, from fences to barns.
He wasn’t perfect. He was a terrible racist. He was unfaithful to my mother many times during their marriage. He was smart, and wasn’t afraid to work hard, but he rarely stayed at a job for long, because he had trouble taking orders — from anyone he deemed beneath him. He thought he was too smart to take orders. The problem was, he wasn’t the one in charge and paying the wages.
My dad was born poor and died poor, but he had a wealth of charm, and had many, many friends and family who loved him. More than a quarter of a century later, I still find myself reaching for the phone to call him or turning to look over my shoulder to ask him something or to tell him something I’ve just learned and wanted to share with him.