I have never celebrated Father’s Day and to this day have not had occasion to, for this is my first Father’s Day. I moved to the US in 1987 and did not celebrate in it India; my father passed away in 1979. I’ve received a couple of Facebook messages, some in-person congratulations and thankfully, no gifts or cards. I’m happy enough to be a father, but I don’t particularly feel like I need a day dedicated to myself. Or to members of my ‘class.’
This expression of gratitude for the non-observation today of Father’s Day by my family–my wife and my six-month old daughter–stems from my dislike of ‘Hallmark holidays’ (like Valentine’s Day, which is a particularly egregious member of that group). A Hallmark holiday is one that–whatever its origins–is the occasion for an unbridled display of commercialism: the gift buying, the cards, the orgies of spending, and the associated tension and guilt. It serves only to remind me of just how controlled and directed our society and culture are by corporate imperatives.
Father’s Day’s origins are steeped deep in this commercialism, this department-store culture:
Father’s Day was founded in Spokane, Washington at the YMCA in 1910 by Sonora Smart Dodd, who was born in Arkansas….It did not have much success initially. In the 1920s, Dodd stopped promoting the celebration because she was studying in the Art Institute of Chicago, and it faded into relative obscurity, even in Spokane. In the 1930s Dodd returned to Spokane and started promoting the celebration again, raising awareness at a national level. She had the help of those trade groups that would benefit most from the holiday, for example the manufacturers of ties, tobacco pipes, and any traditional present to fathers. Since 1938 she had the help of the Father’s Day Council, founded by the New York Associated Men’s Wear Retailers to consolidate and systematize the commercial promotion. Americans resisted the holiday during a few decades, perceiving it as just an attempt by merchants to replicate the commercial success of Mother’s Day, and newspapers frequently featured cynical and sarcastic attacks and jokes. But the trade groups did not give up: they kept promoting it and even incorporated the jokes into their adverts, and they eventually succeeded. By the mid 1980s the Father’s Council wrote that “(…) [Father’s Day] has become a ‘Second Christmas’ for all the men’s gift-oriented industries.” [article citations removed]
As my daughter grows older, I will suggest to her she pay attention to these historical details and not bother herself with commemorating Father’s Day. She will certainly not need to feel any guilt if she doesn’t buy me gifts or forgets to call me. I’ll be happy enough if on the remaining 364–and sometimes 365–days of the year, she internalizes a reasonable fraction of the lessons I will strive to impart to her.
Note: Readers of this blog might have noticed that on Mother’s Day, I wrote a short remembrance of my mother. Why didn’t I write one for my father today? The short answer to that is that I’ve written some already–almost whenever I reference military aviation history for instance–and that one of my central, ongoing writing projects, the history of the Indian Air Force in its two major wars since independence, the 1965 and 1971 wars, is directly and indirectly, influenced by his presence in my life. In this picture, Father’s Day doesn’t stand out.