One hundred and ten years ago this week, America celebrated the first Father’s Day. Sonora Smart Dodd sat listening to a Mother’s Day sermon and thought of her Dad, Henry Smart, who had raised five children without benefit of a mother. Couple of questions come to mind:
1. Was one of Henry Smart’s children named Maxwell?
2. If Henry was really “Smart” why was he parenting alone? Trust me, one of the big reasons that Brian doesn’t divorce me is that he doesn’t want to get stuck with sole custody of the boys.
Nevertheless, the idea caught on. It never got as big as Mother’s Day, mind you, but Hallmark Cards did see it as having potential for revenue during its slow season. Nevertheless, all of the presidents, from Teddy Roosevelt all the way through Lyndon Baines Johnson, passed up on the chance of making it an official event. It wasn’t until Richard Milhous Nixon, in one of the last acts of his presidency, signed the holiday into law in 1972. Forget China. Forget Watergate. Thanks to the 37th president (and Sonora daydreaming during a sermon), every third Sunday in June, we get to celebrate the male nurturing spirit.
Back in South Ozone Park, Pop was good about making sure that we celebrated Mother’s Day. The day before he drove Brother X, Brother Not X and me around, first placing flowers at Grandma Sadie’s grave, and then making sure that each of us had a decent gift for Nurse Vivian the next morning. Worked every year, except for the year that Pop got drafted to work on that Saturday, so he gave Brother Not X a twenty and told him to pick out something. The next morning, he presented a bronze statue of a monkey scratching his head and holding Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. God bless Nurse Vivian. She put it right on top of the television.
But Nurse Vivian was not quite as good about the reciprocal holiday, so on Father’s Day Pop got three very colorful, very polyester neckties that he wore once on each of the next three Sundays at Saint Anthony’s.
Father Fusco, the rector of that church, fussed over Mother’s Day, belting out the Ave Maria in his worst Queens accent, telling us how every mother was connected to Mary. He paraded a statue of the Queen of Heaven around South Ozone Park and the parishioners were expected to tape money to it: sort of a Pin-the-Tail-on-the-Virgin-Mother.
But by June, Father Fusco had run out of steam. He spent his sermon yelling at the parishioners who stopped coming to mass for the summer, and never mentioned St. Joseph, who Brother X called the “the Frosted Father of God.”
Pop never complained. And we went home after mass, and I burnt his bacon, Brother X broke the yolk on his on his sunny side up egg.
Even in a classically-structured family, Father’s Day is the Rodney Dangerfield of holidays. But in a two dad family, we each have to sneak the boys away on the same Saturday so that both of us get surprised. It’s a little more complicated this year, as Brian has yet anotherdance tour starting this Sunday, so I have to sneak the boys away to get a surprise for him, then a surprise for myself. And I will probably have to wake up early to surprise myself with breakfast in bed.
Zane says that this is why he likes being in a two father household: he only has one parent’s day to worry about, and Papa does all the work. This is another reason why I love Papa: he has never once given up on this family.
Favorite moment of fatherhood: three years ago, Aunt Dorla took mercy on us, and took the boys over to her house to make brunch. She asked Aidan what he wanted to make, and he said, “Candy soup!”
“You take a big bowl and pour candy into it. Then stir it up.” Sounds like a recipe for family to me.
So this is my advice to my beloved readers: don’t buy a polyester tie for your patriarch. This much I learned from my father, and is true of me a half century later. Dads don’t want gifts. They want words. So start this Sunday morning off with the following: “This is why I love you Dad:” then come up with at least one good reason.
Feel free to throw in a bowl of candy soup.