A Really Good Father’s Day
(and why they’re rare?)
Davd , June,2011
Father’s Day ought to be a day for celebration and reflection, for family review and making plans for the future. It’s interesting that Father’s and not Mother’s Day is the more appropriate for such long-term, philosophical thinking… and it’s consistent with the tendency for Father’s Day to be a quite ordinary business day in the restaurant industry, while Mother’s Day is the biggest sales day of the entire year for many restaurants.
Father’s Day ought to be celebrated on Family Territory—which a restaurant is not—and a city apartment or a suburban lot is not enough. Indeed, it is difficult and may be impossible, to be a fully functioning father without a Family Territory. The stereotype Family Territory in recent centuries has been a farm—there are other kinds, such as a fishing boat, a mechanic’s shop, a medical practice, even a retail store; but the farm has probably been the commonest. The Family Territory is operated and [subject to some legal restrictions these days] controlled by the family; its foci and quirks are family-chosen; and it provides the family with basic and often total income. Because “Dad” works around home for the family’s subsistence (often with other family members working alongside him), his practical and contributory side is visible to all on a day-to-day basis.
(Consider that comic-strip character Dagwood as a contrary example. He is a stereotypical [sub]urban wage worker, who works farther than a few minutes walk from home, under the control of a “boss”. His home is run by his wife, who is there much more of the waking day than he is. His children seldom if ever see him at work, and since he is a subordinate whose work’s value [if any] is not directly visible, he probably is not eager to show it to them. Right there—in the absence of visible and valuable work for his children to see—Dagwood is less than a fully functioning father.)
To simplify the next few paragraphs, i’ll use farming as the example:
Working for and with their father from an early age, farm children naturally see and appreciate his skills. Some, perhaps most, of those skills he teaches them very gradually as they grow; which means they get to know his quirks and he gets to know theirs, in great detail, and in a situation where it’s in everyone’s best interest to co-operate and appreciate one another. Perhaps daughter Jenny has an intuitive sense for animals, and specializes in the care of the cattle, sheep and logging-horse. She may wind up in the woods with Dad as he logs and she and Buck [the horse] tow the logs to the landing, and in the barn with her grandparents at lambing and calving time.
Perhaps Fritz has a flair for botany. He’ll learn to graft fruit trees, select progenitors for seed-saving, start the tomato and cucumber and pepper plants for the early garden—and when Dad and Jenny are logging, he’ll probably be working the winch, making sure the right stems are thinned from the coppices and that the promising young saplings aren’t damaged when large timber is cut.
Those two are likely to farm when they grow up. If Chris is more of a numbers-and-machines person than a plant or animal person, [s]he’s going to find useful work around the farm, maintaining machinery and keeping records; but that work can more readily transfer to an urban job. Which is not to say Chris is doomed to city life; this century will need more farmers than the late 20th needed, and these three sketches are obviously over-simplified.
Ain’t it a shame that most Father’s Days don’t have that kind of background?
Chris, Fritz and Jenny have a lot more concrete basis for appreciating their father, from the knowledge he’s given them to his physical strength and daily contributions to the homestead, than Dagwood’s children had with him. Dad, on his part, has much to say in specific honour and appreciation of each of them.
Nearly all farmer-fathers of “minor children” are in a middle rather than eldest generation of the resident family. Nearly all will have their own fathers, or occasionally fathers-in-law, at home to share the celebration. Nearly all will remember when they were dependent on the strength and skill of the fathers who now, as old men while they are in their prime years, are their most-skilled helpers. The whole life cycle, from birth to death, is present in living memory. The children can see their grandparents as well as their parents aging and changing, The father-in-his-prime can see his own future, in general terms, in the generation before him; the aging grandfather and perhaps very old great-grandfather can look back on the results of their own nurturing of their own children and grandchildren—and mixed with them, the effects of chance and mischance.
Father’s Day ought to be a day for celebration and reflection, for family review and making plans for the future, and to do best at those important “abstract tasks” requires a lot of detailed knowledge of one another. If that knowledge was gained mostly in one moderately large “place”, the Family Territory, all the better.
I’m not sure why Mother’s Day is the busiest day of the year for so many restaurants. I’ve no detailed explication of why Mother’s Day advertising tends toward spas, theatre and other day-entertainment for the poor, and luxury cruises for the rich. I do agree with the intuition that Father’s Day is more about celebrating the life of the family on the family’s home territory.
It is sad, in a subtle way, that Mother’s Day is so often celebrated away from home. What is it about “home” that makes it less suitable than a commercial restaurant for Mother’s Day? (Perhaps rural mothers aren’t the ones filling those restaurant seats. Perhaps the work of an urban mother isn’t much fun. Perhaps the suburb did not turn out to be such an ideal place for children and mothers—either: Dagwood and those he stereotypes have known for decades that it isn’t such an ideal place for fathers.)
Father’s Day should celebrate the men of the family in the family’s home territory. When it does, i estimate, then Mother’s Day can likewise celebrate the women—and all will be happier for it.
Almost 40 years ago, Elaine Morgan wrote that during the critical times of human evolution and the beginnings of human cultural development, every child among our ancestors had a father who was present and working hard for the family’s well being “because a baby with any other kind of father would have died.” A late-20th-Century affluence seems to have mis-led many people, especially Feminists, into believing that children can grow up “just fine” in one-adult families, most of them mother-headed. Criminological folklore should have warned us, that far from “just a fine”, fatherless children all too often wind up sentenced to imprisonment1.
Father’s Day ought to be a day for reflection, and those of us who cannot do that en-famille should reflect on how to improve things for later generations. It should be a day for making plans for the future, and if we cannot make plans in and for a multi-generation family, then we should be planning to improve that for our children and for the far too many orphans among the young.
Celebration and family review in this decade, are a blessing that many cannot enjoy; while those who can are especially and predominately those who have a family territory. It doesn’t absolutely have to be a farm; but down-on-the-farm beats the Hell out of up-in-the-highrise—and the word Hell is not entirely frivolous.
I remember this week, especially my grandfather Edd Doecher, who walked halfway across North America as a young man, and who as an old man, taught me much of the wisdom in this essay. Mercí, Gran’père, je te souviens.
Cited: Morgan, Elaine 1973 The Descent of Woman. NY: Bantam.
1Until recently anyhow, most of those fatherless prisoners were boys and men—because women and girls were treated more leniently. It will be interesting to see if false rape accusers, women who batter and kill children, husbands, and lovers, women who steal and defraud, and [if indeed we soon see gender equality in criminal punishment] go to prison or probation for it—if they also are more often raised by single mothers, than the population at large.