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Editor's Note

Father’s Day: The me-too holiday

Even woodcut fathers are noted for the teaching role they play with their children.

Unverified legend has it that the first woman on the planet came into existence as something of an afterthought. God reportedly took a rib from a sleeping Adam, the first man, and made Eve, the first woman. Adam slept with one eye open from then on. If being an afterthought bothered Eve, at least she eventually had her revenge by being first to have a holiday that celebrates her.

Mother’s Day was an outgrowth of the late 19th-century peace movement and the growing suffragette movement (“The meaning behind Mother’s Day cards and flowers,” Marina Times, May 2013). A woman named Anna Jarvis held a ceremony at the St. Andrews Methodist Church in Fairmont, West Virginia, to honor her mother, and a movement was born that spread rapidly across the country.

Father’s Day was an early 20th century attempt to make Dad feel like he was equal. The first Father’s Day was held in 1908 in a West Virginia Methodist church when a woman wanted to honor her father and other men who died in a mining accident. The second Father’s Day wouldn’t happen for several years, but this time it was in another state by another woman at yet another Methodist church, and it was intended to honor her father who had raised six children on his own. Then, like all great lasting traditions, it … fell into obscurity for a couple decades. Father’s Day would only be revived when that same woman teamed up with men’s apparel manufacturers in the 1930s to promote it more widely.

This naturally brings to mind several questions. Why did Father’s Day take so long to catch on? Was this the first holiday that was precommercialized? And what is it with Methodists and their parents?

We can only speculate about why Father’s Day gets the Miss Congeniality prize while Mother’s Day is the clear winner in popularity. Mom is right up there with the proverbial baseball and apple pie as American foci of love and respect. There might also be something to the basic sexist assumption that men don’t go around singing their praises, unless they’re hip-hop singers or football players. It’s considered unseemly, unstoic. Or maybe a lot of people had reasons to dislike their dads.

When I think of the decades’ worth of Father’s Days I’ve lived through, I have to admit I can not think of a single one that is memorable. This is not to denigrate fathers in general or my fathers in particular. It’s just that if you ask many people about the first image that comes to their mind when they hear “Father’s Day,” I think first or second on their list is “ties.” Why are ties the gift that so many people give their dads? He is just as likely to enjoy being served breakfast in bed on that day — like Mom gets on Mother’s Day — or being given time for a golf game or whatever. It is hard to escape the conclusion that Father’s Day gifts were baked into the formula by those same apparel makers who decided to promote it for a cause — their own. Love your dad? Get him his 47th tie. He might even wear it some day when you’re not around.

As someone who lost his father and his stepfather in the same year in 2013, I can state that I was incredibly lucky to have these two men in my life. They were good men and good parents. They had served in the military; my father quit high school to join the Navy at the end of World War II, and my stepfather served in the Korean War. We remember and honor that on Memorial Day. They both worked hard all of their lives, and they set a standard and example for integrity that was honest and independent, and they treated the women and children in their lives with love and respect. The world could use more people like them, so even a second-thought, also-ran holiday is better than nothing to remember and honor that.

The family into which you’re born is a matter of luck. I had no way to pick my parents or siblings, so it’s a matter of continuing wonder and happiness to me that I had such wonderful people who know me better than anyone else.

I learned that growing up in Methodist churches.

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