Father's Day, the 3rd Sunday in June in most countries that celebrate, may seem even more artificial and commercial than Mother's Day (see also "Mother's Day in France and the Former French Colonies of MENA" here and ici en français), and to some extent, in its current form it is. Created as a "matching holiday" in the early 20th century, Father's Day was similarly championed by one ambitious woman, wanting to honour her and other fathers, drew the support of the YMCA and the YWCA as well as churches, and eventually had the backing of President Theodore Roosevelt. It wasn't until Lyndon Johnson, though, that the holiday took on more official status; and, it fell to the Nixon administration to formalize that.
Nonetheless, Father's Day is a time to stop and reflect on the role that fathers and paternal figures have in our lives, and to show appreciation for those around us--fathers, stepfathers, fathers-in-law, uncles, grandfathers, and male mentors, guides, and advisers who have taken a positive paternal role. It is also a time when some countries and cultures honour forefathers, or founding fathers of a nation. Others may honour the local or national patron saint.
Saint Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus, whose feast day March 19, is celebrated in some Catholic countries as Father's Day.
Roman Catholics often celebrate March 19th, the Feast of St Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus, as a spiritual father's day; and, in some Catholic countries Father's Day itself falls on that day, notably in Italy, Portugal, and Spain, as well as Andorra, Liechentstein, and parts of Belgium in Europe, and Bolivia and the Honduras in Hispano-America.
Although the 3rd Sunday in June conveniently fixes the date, often the date for Father's Day was the date of the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year, the one where the sun is in the sky for the greatest number of hours. In some countries it still is. This is true of Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria. In many cultures around the world and through time, the sun was a symbol of maleness and fatherhood, while the moon was a symbol of femaleness and motherhood. Often the sun god of a culture was the dominant, masculine god. That was the case of Ra, the sun god of Ancient Egyptian culture, which spread south along the Nile and east across the Sinai Peninsula.
Other MENA countries, including Saudi Arabia, do not seem to recognize Father's Day formally, probably in keeping with the general recognition of religious feasts only. However, some individuals may participate, especially if they are in the West currently. It is hard not to want to acknowledge one's father and paternal figures while others all around are acknowledging theirs, particularly in mixed families. It may also be part of habits acquired while living in the West, and continued at home.
The Sun God Ra, in one of his forms with a falcon head, topped by a sun disk
Australia, Fiji, New Zealand, and Papua New Guinea celebrate Father's Day on the 1st Sunday in September (September 5, 2010), because...well, it is not obvious why, except for some speculation about a near miss with the vernal equinox (Sept 20-21 in the Southern Hemisphere). Perhaps there is some Australasian connection with the new moon, as in the Hindu tradition, where contemporary Father's Day--in countries like India and Nepal--is celebrated on the day in late August or early September which coincides with the new moon day.
In any case, it seems that where it is celebrated, Father's Day includes cards, cakes, dinners, gifts (the proverbial tie, mug, golf balls, but also more personal ones, and tickets to new adventures), and the great outdoors, whether for sports activities or barbecuing. There are cards for all types of fathers and paternal figures, which allow one to recognize not only father, but other male relatives in one's life, which is often a surprise and greatly appreciated. Interestingly, while long distance phone calls fall short of those on Mothers' Day, significantly more of them are collect calls, although new modes of telephone communication may impact total numbers. Still, the highest number of collect calls are on Father's Day, Mother's Day, and Valentine's Day, respectively. As someone who quite young mastered the art of the collect call in multiple languages, I can say that I don't recall ever requiring anyone to pay for the pleasure of my telephone greetings on such occasions. But, then again, I am more a card person, anyway.
On a Personal Note
This year, instead of Father's Day being a "rack the brain for a gift, choose a restaurant, help Dad make his own barbecue dinner" day, it is more a chance for further remembrance and honouring of my father, who passed away on February 19, 2010. The intervening 4 months have been a time of grieving, adjustment, and adaptation--in a cyclical, though progressive, fashion. Some days (and nights) are better than others, and generally there is a positive progression for all in my family.
Even though it is part of my profession to know, I still find it odd what can trigger a grief reaction. I was doing well, considering, until I visited my father's grave site for the second time after his burial, almost exactly one month after the funeral and burial service. One might think such a visit would trigger a renewal of grieving, but I had visited 2 weeks previously with no problem, and I thought I had handled this visit well too, which I did--up to a point. I wrote about the experience in comments on Murtadha's blog Saudi Alchemist, on his March Panorama 2010. I have copied those comments below.
March 30, 2010 at 1:04 AM
Interesting list [of quotations] as usual.
I am at the moment preferring this one:
“Your worst enemy, he reflected, was your nervous system. At any moment the tension inside you was liable to translate itself into some visible symptom.”- reading 1984 novel by George Orwell, Chapter 6.
April 2, 2010 at 6:44 PM
Murtadha–thanks for the opportunity to elaborate. At the time I left the comment, my nervous system was betraying me too greatly to say anything more about Orwell’s:
Your worst enemy, he reflected, was your nervous system. At any moment the tension inside you was liable to translate itself into some visible symptom.
It seemed extremely appropriate to my then state, and in fact to what I do for a living which is help people whose nervous system has become their worst enemy and has caused symptoms visible to themselves, and usually to others, especially those who know them well, that give them grief, and require relief.
My own state was directly related to grieving my father’s death on February 19. I have gone through various stages of course, and used various supports for this, and overall I am handling things well enough that I don’t have to worry about referring myself to a shrink (LOL :) ).
However, on Wed March 24, almost a month to the day from the funeral on Tues February 23, I accompanied my mother to the grave site, at her request, as she wanted to see the grave before finalizing the engraving on the foot-stone, which had been requested by the cemetery. I was happy to fulfil the supportive daughter role, and not unhappy to visit the grave, especially since it was a particularly splendid spring day, and offered a chance for reflection.
On the way there my mother shared her grief, and I offered support more than sharing mine, which was understandably less intense than hers. We set about finding the grave site, and after some searching, starting from her parents’ one which is much easier to find and not far away, we finally gave up and decided to head to the car to drive to the office and have them give us the exact location and a map. As we walked back through the rows of head stones, there was a square cut into the grass, about 18″ by 18″ (45cm by 45cm), and about 9″ or 23cm deep. My mother told me to watch out, not to step in it, etc, and I said as kindly as I could, yes I had seen it and no, I wouldn’t step in it. We paused to consider what it was for, and I came up with the brilliant deduction that the cemetery staff must be burying “something”. It looked about the right size for a box of cremated remains, but too shallow (hopefully!). So I said “I wonder whose plot area this is” and looked up to see the prominent headstone with my family’s last name on it!
Fortunately we chose to find this hilarious, particularly me, as it brought back memories of Hamlet’s graveyard scene (including the comic relief of the grave diggers) and a friend’s story about when he was a pall bearer and fell into the grave after slipping on the wet foot-stone. Also, we were of course relieved to find my father’s resting place, view the foot-stone, finalize what we thought should be engraved, discuss family already buried there, remember the funeral, and my dad, etc.
Off we went to the cemetery offices. The “counsellor” took us back to the grave which I now found easily, as the tree which had obscured it before has now become a welcome signpost. Back to the office, all the while giving my somewhat “distracted” mother the support she needed, then chatting away with the “counsellor” and former seminarian about Vatican II changes, the Tridentine Mass, the absence of priests to perform Latin Masses, all the while not letting on that I had attended the only one in the region, held at the church where my father was an alter boy from ages 6-16, and which had given me much comfort about 2 weeks previously (didn’t want to have that discussion with mom LOL :) ).
Everything settled, we headed home and more supportive daughter talk, chatting, making jokes. I thought it had been a very good day all in all.
April 2, 2010 at 7:05 PM
Ah, but later that evening, working on the computer alone, I started to have a sinking feeling, a hollowed out, inner emptiness, that my brain was trying to control, but very ineffectually. I knew it was probably related to the day’s reminder of my loss, but there were other factors too. For one, I was supposed to head back the next day to my real world after 3 months with family–a Christmas visit that stretched due to my father’s illness and then death. Moving back was a welcome event, but a transition none the less.
I realized in the course of normal writing, emails, and chats that my humour radar was off, and my irritability quotient escalating, but more than that the downward spiral was continuing. So I thought that the best solution was much needed sleep.
It was not to be…I had the same pattern I did when my father first died, waking up and listening to see if he needed me or was calling from the next room, remembering it was ok he was in hospital, and then remembering no, actually it wasn’t ok. All that night at 15min intervals it seemed, then the next night, and by the 3rd not quite so frequent[ly].
Meanwhile my nephew wouldn’t let me go on Thursday as planned because he wanted me to stay for his final hockey game of the season (subtext –no grandpa and he needs all the family support he can get). I stayed happily for him, though somewhat disappointed not to be moving as planned. I say happily, but unfortunately despite my best efforts my nervous system seemed to be my worst enemy–serotonin levels seemed to be dropping precipitously with accompanying sadness and irritation.
By Friday as I worked in the local uni med library I was at a very low ebb. Low enough to leave early (unheard of! LOL :) ). It wasn’t until later Saturday (after the game–nephew got a shutout in goal, 3-0, yay!) that I realized consciously how profoundly I had been affected by the visit to the cemetery which was overriding all other stressers, but making them confounds and harder to handle. I began a slow climb back up to normal, though still susceptible to downturns and needing more company than usual.
I moved back to my own world on Monday which was good but jarring too. That is when I left the first comment I did above (time zones! :) ) just before I left my regular uni library early (REALLY unheard of! LOL :) ).
So that is my rather long (sorry) elaboration on my own experience of nervous system betrayal, the one that made me gravitate to Orwell’s quote, at that particular time. As I wrote above, this is what I do for a living in helping other people, so the quote has longer term appeal, even though my own nervous system is behaving much better! :) .
Fortunately, I have never felt that low since, but more nostalgic. Victoria Day Weekend was one such time. It involved a lot of gardening, as is traditional, and which I enjoy. It reminded me of my Dad in many ways. He was not as fond of gardening as my Mother and I. It perhaps is "somewhat" related to the fact that he would do the heavy jobs, while we would plan and buy plants, and decide their final placements...and, well yes, decide to move them.
A Korean Canadian friend was once complaining that his mother had Korean trees in giant pots which he and his brother had to move in and out of the house each year so they could enjoy the summer, and survive the winter. I told him about my Dad's complaint that we made him dig up large trees and move them, or worse turn them. His biggest complaint was about the flowering crab apple tree which was dug up, turned, turned back, over a couple of inches, back one...to literally a final repositioning a 1/4 of an inch (1 cm) rotation from the original!
No wonder he would look askance when my mother and I headed off for the nursery, or contemplated the garden for too long! I used to joke: "Plants bought in the morning, murder at 6, news at 11." Somehow, I was part of the problem--okay, I was there for the 1/4 inch turn! But my first garden memories include the wonderful garden my mother planned and my dad did the heavy work for--a garden with a long stretch of lawn bordered on both sides with climbing roses, peonies, and daisies. There was a birch tree near the bricked patio he had built, then a lilac bush half way to the vegetable garden. I remember the joy of picking radishes and carrots--so joyful that I picked ones that I knew weren't ready yet, and which my dad replanted, then explained to me again how to tell which were ready, and then finally, since I was persistently, deliberately obtuse but only 3ish, quietly put an end to the picking for that day.
This Victoria Day Weekend, gardening brought back such memories, and had other reminders of my father's absence. Suddenly, from Deputy Landscaper, I took a "lateral move" ("demotion" is such an ugly word) to Deputy Landscaper and Chief Weeder, Alternate Sprinkler System Warrior, and Plant Transporter. These additional duties are the ones my Dad did when we weren't particularly noticing. There are many others outdoors and in, which are often the reminders of his absence and our loss. Mostly, we all miss his company, conversation, knowledge, perspective, and joy in family celebrations--including Father's Day!
I write this about my own father because I think that Father's Day, and fathers, often aren't given their due in comparison to Mother's Day and mothers. This is probably because a lot of fathers do just as mine did--provide a solid presence but a background one, and show a lot of love in unmentioned actions and care-taking as well as care-giving.
My father attended the exhibition synchronized swimming solo I did as a teen to this music (from one of his favourite old musicals), and said remarkably little about the gold lamé costume that I did it in!
Since I cannot be with him physically this Father's Day, in a grieving moment, I wrote him this letter:
Happy Father’s Day!
For once I have no problem in knowing what I want to get you. Unfortunately, giving you the gift of life is beyond my reach. I must instead take comfort in thinking of you with your brother and parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Maybe you and the guys will organize a football game, and the moms will make homemade ravioli, and the dads will bring out the homemade wine. I know your side will win, especially if your brother is on the opposing team LOL :), or maybe he will stick to a management position where he can do no harm, and probably some good.
I was talking with a coffee buddy the other day, about Father’s Day coming up, and how it makes me sad remembering your absence. I was explaining to him how in the first picture of you holding me, in the baby album mom made, you looked far too young to be legally married, let alone the father of a child! You also look terrified! I explained to the coffee buddy how you looked doubly terrified. You, the great football player with the giant hands, looked like you were afraid to death that you might drop me. But, you also looked as if you were scared I might go off like a grenade! We both had a good laugh about that, sorry. :)
I then told him about the very next picture, the one I tend to forget, with you holding me like a pro, a veteran dad of a 6 week old. You have me along one arm, with the same hand holding a bottle tipped back at the perfect angle. I was trying to illustrate, when it dawned on me that you must have had me tucked against you, elbow in, baby against body, like a good football player runs with the ball, or stands around cradling the ball waiting for play to resume.
Yes, that must have been how you cradled me; the same way you held the football last summer waiting for us to clue in, resume the game, and look for the pass. Well, okay, waiting for me to clue in. What can I say... the poor senior boys football coach and head of phys ed did his best in those obligatory “cross-gender”, high school phys ed classes to teach us girls football skills—oops, seems he forgot that some of us had never held a football before (THANK YOU, DAD!!!), and had no clue how to hold it let alone throw it. I now know one is supposed to spread one’s hand across the laces, but that is rather non-doable frankly, at least for me, even with the limberness of the piano stretch for a major 7th.
So, anyway, I have been mentally carrying around that image of you standing waiting with the football last summer, and now I realize it was a lot like how you stood waiting with my infant self to have your picture taken, the other arm hanging loosely at your side, smiling happily. No longer terrified—yet! Puberty was still a long way off! :)
Long before then you would have to use your football skills again. I know you told me to sit down in my seat properly, but at 2-3ish one prefers to stand, and take in the full "car travel experience". Unfortunately, one is also a good projectile object in a car accident, given how disproportionately top heavy toddlers are. Luckily for me you steered the car with one hand and blocked my trajectory toward the windshield with the other. A flat backhand to my flat chest, and I was safely pinned to the car seat, not a scratch on me. Well, yeah, I somehow managed to pierce my lip but there is no visible scar, and my head is still on my shoulders -- at least physically :) . I know you have sometimes wondered whether it is properly connected! :)
Oh, but puberty, wasn’t that a horrible time? A “challenge to the father-daughter relationship” my colleagues would call it. I would now call it a pre-menarche, full year of chronic, unrelenting, PMS! At the time it was just an emotional blur of hypersensitivity, melancholia, irritability, and tears--of making a pool of water when I wasn’t swimming in one. And just when you thought it was safe to walk around your home without causing a deluge, the other daughter started! Yea, that must have been a tough couple of years in the dad calendar.
After puberty, I would say running interference would be more the (football) skill of (your) choice. Remember the time, when, succumbing to peer pressure, I asked you if I could spend the summer at a remote resort working as a lifeguard? Never wishing to fully block an option or tackle a dream, you said, “Maybe when you are 15 or 16”. “I AM 15”, I asserted, feeling the need to put up some resistance for teen face-saving in the retelling (“I tried! He was just IMPOSSIBLE!”). You didn’t miss a beat and replied, “Maybe when you are 16 or 17”--much to my relief!
You never stopped me from taking any travel scholarships though. How about the time I was in Spain ready to return and there was the threat of an air controllers’ strike? You told me to fly anywhere in the US and you would drive there to meet me. I guess you were hoping for the northern US though! :) Good thing I had the oblivious optimism of adolescence, and assumed there would be no air controllers’ strike. Thank you, whoever caved on those negotiations!
Adulthood is good, but it is still hard to believe you are no longer here to run interference for me--except I am supposedly old enough now to do that for myself, or find the team who will, and they do. It isn’t the same though. It isn’t the same as knowing that you would get me out of wherever if you had to. Like the time you, the non-swimmer, life guarded for me when I would take a swim in the Caribbean after our morning jogs on the beach. It struck me as a little comical, until I realized you would make sure to do what you had to, and to get the necessary help if I did encounter any difficulty.
Being more mature, I think I do understand better now why, when I laughed at the birthday dinner because grandma called all 6’2” of you by your diminutive little boy’s name, she said, “He will always be my baby”. At the time, my 8ish self thought that was even more hilariously preposterous than calling you by a little boy’s name. I remember looking over at you and thinking, “HIM??”, but I knew better than to say anything or to laugh. Now it seems very plausible. We are all our parents’ babies, no matter what our age or size.
So, I hope you have enjoyed your reunion with your mom and dad, and brother. I hope you get together with the American cousins for a football game like you used to, or maybe baseball. It’s baseball season, right? Hmmm, I never did learn to use a baseball mitt. I guess your prowess as a first-baseman skipped a generation--or a gender. Anyway, give the other team what for!
Happy Father’s Day, and Love always and forever,
If an infant "walks" with her mother's legs (according to child psychoanalyst Françoise Dolto), a little girl "dances" with her father's. My Dad and I twirled around a lot to this. Very easy to follow a lead when you are well off the ground, and just have to imagine your hoop skirt in full flight!
Although I must admit that I have been avoiding Father's Day reminders, I did read 2 Father's Day tributes that struck a chord. The one, with a title of "Father's Day without Dad", I couldn't resist, and it is an extremely well written and moving remembrance by a 22-year-old son whose father died when he was 12.
The other, The burden and the glory of fatherhood, is a very humorous but genuine take on fatherhood from the father's side of the equation, also from a father-young son perspective (the visit to the Calgary Stampede is priceless).
"The burden and the glory of fatherhood", illustration George Gendi, for The Globe and Mail.
"It’s the one time in a man’s life when someone really believes in you, even when it’s wholly unjustified" (author Will Ferguson).
To all fathers, uncles, grandfathers,
and paternal figures,
Happy Father's Day!
How will you/did you spend Father's Day?
What are your special Father's Day memories?
What do you think the role(s) of uncles and grandfathers is/are?
Have you had cross-cultural Father's Day challenges?
How have you resolved them?
If raising a child takes a village, who are the fathers of the village?
Any other comments, thought, experiences?