Sunday, June 20, 2010

Happy Father’s Day

Today, the third Sunday of June, is Father’s Day for many countries in the world including U.S.  For me, I may have another shot on August 8th since that is when Father’s Day is celebrated in Taiwan (the logical choice was based on the pronunciation of the month and the day in Mandarin which is homophonous with the word “Ba Ba” or father).  What I haven’t figured out is how did mainland China end up celebrating it on the same day as U.S. who was the first country to designate the third Sunday of June as Father’s Day.

For those who have been involved in or following the movements of women’s rights and equality may be surprised to learn that father’s day did not come easily despite decades of campaigns by some.  Indeed, while Mother’s Day has a very long history and universal acceptance, public support (men and women included) for honoring fatherhood has never seemed that strong.  According to the Wikipedia article on Father’s Day, the first observance to celebrate Father’s Day took place in Spokane Washington exactly 100 years ago.  It was started by Sonora Smart Dodd who pushed the idea of honoring fathers like hers.  However it wasn’t until 1966 when President Lyndon Johnson finally issued the first presidential proclamation designating the third Sunday in June as Father's Day.  It took another six years to make it a permanent national holiday when President Richard Nixon signed it into law in 1972.

There are probably many reasons why Father’s Day has not been taken as seriously.  To begin with, some wives and mothers may question if they are truly deserving and fathers themselves may not want to attract too much attention either.  My guess for the top reasons are:  Firstly, receiving sentimental gift seems to be going against the macho image of men.   Secondly, as many fathers were the primary bread earners of the house, gifts from the family may come at the expense of the fathers, as illustrated by satires like the following poem quoted in Leigh Eric Schmidt’s 1997 book Consumer Rites: The Buying and Selling of American Holiday,

The Old man wept, and his teardrops swept
Like rain on the Summer hills.
“It was Father’s Day and his hair turned gray,
For he knew he must pay the bills.”

As a further evidence, the manager of a local Chinese restaurant told us few weeks ago that their Father’s Day specials are better deals and are cheaper than ones offered during Mother’s Day.   When asked why they would price as such, his answer was that it is usually the father who pays for the celebration!

Of course, commercialization is inevitable for Father’s Day despite the objection and complaints by the purists.  Why wouldn’t merchants try to capture the opportunity to make more money?  The way I look at it is at least it can serve as a reminder for those who otherwise may have forgotten about it completely.  To figure out what are popular gifts for Father’s Day, one can simply check out the advertisements and promotions.  Apparently the top choices include clothes, power tools, and goods related to hobbies.  For big ticket items, it would be either something allowing fathers work more efficiently like a power mower/riding mower, or cook more efficiently like gas grill, or watch sport programs like a large HDTV.   In contrast, flowers, jewelry, and pampering treats like spa seem to be more popular for mothers.   Of course, going out to eat is almost a given for Mother’s Day nowadays which is the busiest day of the year for restaurants.  Fathers, on the other hand, can do BBQs with the new gas grill!  I suppose it is hard not to go out if the chef of the house is taking a day off! 

Talking about flowers and sentimental gifts, most people know that the official Mother's Day flower is the (white) carnation.   But how many of us know that the official Father’s Day flower is rose and have you seen anyone wearing them on Father’s Day?  Leigh Eric Schmidt’s book mentioned that dandelion was jokingly suggested as the flower of Father’s Day because “the more it is trampled on, the more it grows.”   With these words of wisdom, I would have to agree that dandelion is a better choice than rose indeed.

We watched the other night the 2007 Brazilian movie Cidade dos Homens (City of Men).  The main characters are two 18 years old best friends who grew up without knowing their fathers in one of the favelas (slumps) in Rio de Janeiro (yes, this movie is a derivative of  the 2002 award winning Brazilian movie Cidade de Deus(City of God)).   Threading through the movie is the yearning and the search for their fathers by the boys in this difficult neighborhood.  What I found specially touching was the brief conversations when the two shared their feelings - all they wished was to have their fathers around to tell them how to do little trivial daily life things.  According to a recent U.S. Census Bureau report, a little over 25% of children under 21 in the U.S. are living with approximately 14 million single parents of which the majority are mothers.  Fathers, the least you can do is to be there for your kids as much as possible regardless the circumstances.   Happy Father’s Day!


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