Friday, June 14, 2013

Here's to dad

The history of holidays is sort of fascinating to me. I mean, it's pretty clear who came up with some of the most popular ones. For instance, Christmas was invented by Christians, Thanksgiving was the brainchild of the pilgrims (or maybe the Indians,) Valentine's Day is meant for lovers, and Groundhog's Day is all about hope. And so on.
Even the faux-holidays, the ones that were, apparently, invented by greeting card companies and chocolate manufacturers, have some basis. But the one special day that continues to puzzle me is coming up this month.
It's called Father's Day.
Father's Day is kind of an interesting holiday in that nobody ever seemed too shook up about making it official. After it was first suggested back in 1910, the day was generally ignored until the manufacturers of neckties and pipes glommed onto it in the 30s. After two attempts to formally recognize the holiday were defeated by Congress, President Lyndon B. Johnson issued the first presidential proclamation honoring fathers, designating the third Sunday in June as Father's Day. Six years later, the day was made a permanent national holiday when President Richard Nixon signed it into law in 1972
So, why the delay? Why did it take so darn long to make dad's day an official U.S. holiday?
The answer is simple.
How do you celebrate a holiday with a person whose only real desire on that special day is to be left alone?  Even my own dad, who was usually a pretty good sport about things, seemed kind of lukewarm about an event that required him to gratefully accept a truly hideous necktie, then give up his only day off so he could fete, feed and otherwise entertain us in a celebration of his own fatherhood and the bright, wonderful children he had sired.
Or at least that's how we saw it.
"Don't take the chicken," he'd mutter while watching us gleefully cherrypick our way through an overpriced restaurant buffet. "Eat the roast beef," he'd add, while comparing the price of poultry and prime beef.  He would then, I imagine, mentally calculate the number of starving children that could be fed with what we left on our plates, and wait for it all to be over.
But we weren't done with him yet. Not by a long shot.
Besides working long hours in the pharmacy he owned and dozing in front of the tv, my dad's favorite things were gardening and fishing. Now, normally, we'd allow him to pursue those pastimes without too much interference on our parts.
But not on Father's Day.
Instead, we would hasten to join him in the large plot where he grew vegetables and flowers. Anxious to "help" him,  we would step all over the rows of young growing stuff, pull plants and leave weeds behind, bat peony buds into the air with badminton racquets, and otherwise bring chaos to an otherwise peaceful, well-ordered section of yard.  If fishing was the game, we would lose his bait, tangle his lines, tip over his tackle box, and make so much noise that the fish would literally laugh out loud before diving for deeper, safer waters and fish-father celebrations of their own.
Finally, my dad would do something I still admire for both its wisdom and sense of restraint. He would disappear.
Instead of doing what most sensible guys would do, and burying us in a hole in the garden or drowning us in the lake, he would simply go somewhere else for awhile.  Usually, it was an "emergency" of some sort down at his drugstore.  By the time he returned, my siblings I and would have, thankfully, all but forgotten him and the need to force-feed a celebration in his honor. Finally, he would be free to enjoy the rest of the day in relative peace and normalcy, puttering around in the yard and the garage, and hanging out with my mom, who had done her best to shield him from the worst of our over-attentive efforts.  She would pull together the kind of meal they both liked, consisting, mainly, of vegetables from his garden.  We would eat and talk and laugh and just enjoy being a family for awhile. The late afternoon would gently ease into nighttime. The house would finally be quiet.
I hope it was a pretty good day in spite of us all.
Years and years later, I look back at those those days and remember.
I remember those ugly ties. And the pricy Father's Day meals that he paid for.  I remember the summer days and nights, the garden, the lake, the family store, and all the other places and things that made him happy, and made us happy, too.
I remember my father, who was modest and quiet and hard-working, and who loved us all. And I realize now that it doesn't really matter what you do on Father's Day, just as long as you love him right back.
Here's to dads.
Here's to my dad.
Happy Father's Day.

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