Father’s Day 2005

There is more than a small measure of truth in the cynical notion that Father’s Day is promoted less out of a reverence and respect for fathers and more as a means to generate sales in cards and gifts. It is also well-documented that Father’s Day generates far less enthusiasm than Mother’s Day. BusinessWeek reports that while consumers spend $11.25 billion on mothers, they manage to spend a substantially less $8.23 billion on dear old dad. By such a metric, fathers are honored 27% less than mothers. There is a scholarly paper to be written someday based on the observation that on Mother’s Day, there is a record number of phone calls made, while on Father’s Day, there is a record number of collect phone calls made. Why are things not as American as “fatherhood and apple pie” as well as “motherhood and apple pie?” While fathers receive less attention, there is ample evidence that they can be as important in child rearing as mothers. However, dwelling on such observations or slights is a little too self-centered and unbecoming for fathers. Father’s receive two important gifts they too often overlook. Mothers receive the same gifts, but they seem to need them less than fathers.

Children provide to fathers the gift of perpetual youth. Without children, fathers would likely not avail themselves of the opportunity to re-read the wealth of children’s literature they long ago forgot. The morality stories of fairy tales, the rhymes of Dr. Seuss, and wonders of Bill Peet books would otherwise be lost. Fathers get to look again at the world through the unjaded eyes of youth, to relive the joy of Christmas morning, to share the excitement of losing a first tooth, and to bask in the reflected glory of accomplishments from driver’s licenses to graduations. Without children, many fathers would have less of an opportunity to ride a skateboard down a hill, warm up an old mitt with a game of catch, or get a chance to explain the infield fly rule to a puzzled face. Children keep fathers from becoming grumpy old curmudgeons. It is no coincidence that the descent into curmudgeon-hood for fathers accelerates when children leave the home unless abated by the elevating presence of grandchildren.

Children create adults of out parents. It is too easy for those without children to indulge themselves in dissipating pursuits. The responsibility of children means creating a household that children can thrive in, and this requires work on the part of fathers. It also requires building neighborhoods by helping out at the school or coaching a ball team. More importantly, fathers provide an important example of behavior for children. Fathers learn to act in ways that teach the right lesson. Being a good father means becoming an adult and children hasten this process.

My children have already honored their father without the special attention of Father’s Day. Despite the fact that it is statistically true that conscientious fathers (and mothers) tend to produce better-adjusted children, that is by no means an absolute certainty. We all know of cases where children overcame rather abusive homes to become honorable and responsible adults. We all know of other cases where diligent parents have children who have severe emotional problems. Ultimately, children become adults and make their own choices. My gift from my children is that they have generally made good personal decisions, despite any mistakes I may have made. This, far more than any tie, or book, or dinner, says thank you.

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