THE BLOG
06/14/2013 08:39 am ET | Updated Aug 14, 2013

That Other Holiday, Father's Day: Honoring the First Man of Significance in Our Lives

As Jeremy Reynalds suggests, Father's Day has long "played second fiddle to Mother's Day," one of the most commercially successful holidays in America. An estimated $18 billion was spent last year for flowers, gifts, clothing, jewelry and dining experiences on Mother's Day. The predictable "Daddy Tie" and new socks hardly compare, and there are significantly less reservations made on Father's Day in comparison to Mother's Day, (which is certainly one of the biggest days of the year for restaurants), and perhaps that is just perfectly fine with Dad.

Many mothers would prefer that the dads take the children out and about for a few hours, or keep them occupied at home so that they can get an extra hour of sleep or simple privacy and quietude. Dads, on their day, might also like some time to watch a game, hang out with a buddy, or run off to the golf course to try to get that tiny little ball into a hole nearly as small 350 yards away.

There are many families who just want to be together without the pressure of worrying, "Is this enough?" Holidays of all sorts come with huge expectations and, too often, anxiety and disappointments.

My dad actually blurted out this year that he did not like Father's Day! I may have to become the Anna Jarvis of the day. Anna, who is credited with creating Mother's Day in America in 1908, is noted for a second 1920 campaign urging the public to stop purchasing flowers and cards for a holiday she once envisioned as a simple recognition of the daily contribution of mothers everywhere.

According to History.com, "The campaign to celebrate the nation's fathers did not meet with the same enthusiasm -- perhaps because, as one florist explained, 'fathers haven't the same sentimental appeal that mothers have.'" And why is that? Our dads represent strength and protection, at least when we are small. I still retain a visceral memory of walking on a street in New York City with my dad, my small hand fitting comfortably around his pinkie finger. He seemed huge and omnipotent to me.

Men still seem bemused and continually concerned about not getting it right on Mother's Day. Women seem less apprehensive about Father's Day; perhaps there is less expectation on the part of dad and the public, and moms are generally more at ease shopping for a gift. However, that may be changing, because I know my sons are very comfortable shopping via the internet for everything!

According to History.com:

On July 5, 1908, a West Virginia church sponsored the nation's first event explicitly in honor of fathers, a Sunday sermon in memory of the 362 men who had died in the previous December's explosions at the Fairmont Coal Company mines in Monongah, but it was a one-time commemoration and not an annual holiday. The next year, a Spokane, Washington woman named Sonora Smart Dodd, one of six children raised by a widower, tried to establish an official equivalent to Mother's Day for male parents. She went to local churches, the YMCA, shopkeepers and government officials to drum up support for her idea, and she was successful: Washington State celebrated the nation's first statewide Father's Day on July 19, 1910.

Slowly, the holiday spread. In 1916, President Wilson honored the day by using telegraph signals to unfurl a flag in Spokane when he pressed a button in Washington, D.C. In 1924, President Calvin Coolidge urged state governments to observe Father's Day. However, many men continued to disdain the day. As one historian writes, they "scoffed at the holiday's sentimental attempts to domesticate manliness with flowers and gift-giving, or they derided the proliferation of such holidays as a commercial gimmick to sell more products--often paid for by the father himself."

...
During the 1920s and 1930s, a movement arose to scrap Mother's Day and Father's Day altogether in favor of a single holiday, Parents' Day. Every year on Mother's Day, pro-Parents' Day groups rallied in New York City's Central Park--a public reminder, said Parents' Day activist and radio performer Robert Spere, "that both parents should be loved and respected together."

These days with divorce rates hovering in the 50% range that might prove difficult indeed.

This year, as with many previous years, I had intended to pay for the family brunch; I was not going to stick my dad with the bill! I used to buy him a shirt or a sweater, but these days I often give him money so he can spend it as he wishes. However, after my dad's rather blunt admittance to his lack of fondness for the day I may have to cancel our reservation and have Father's Day at home, sans the tie, socks and cologne. As a restaurateur one less day in a restaurant will seem like a vacation to me. Dad will still get the card, the words of love and the cash!

Since my mother's passing this September I have had a great deal more interaction with my father. When mom was still with us, I would call, a few times a day, and dad would quickly say, "Hello, let me give you to your mother," assuming I had nothing much to say to him. It is true my mother and I were extremely close, but dad's behavior had become an eccentric phone reflex. Now dad is here every day sitting, and on occasion, sleeping, on my couch. His greatest joy is reading the daily papers, sitting quietly with my two devoted little dogs, looking out at the garden, hoping for a brief interaction with the grandson that is still home, (for his last summer before college), but more often running out, and reflecting on his late wife of sixty seven and half years, my wonderful mom. My older son was just here for his brother's graduation, but he returned quickly to his graduate program back East; I think my dad felt that was a bit like Father's Day. With families so far apart: one brother in New York, who is the father of the other two grandsons who are also off to college, and only one brother here, family life gets harder to reassemble. I understand dad, because even though there is still life ahead, at 86 more of it is behind him. So as I write this I realize what he would like for Father's Day is likely more of the same. More of what he really enjoys, just to sit peacefully, have us bring him his favorite foods, and just be Dad.

Happy Father's Day Dad and to all the Dads out there who truly engage with their children. Remember men, good or bad, you are the first man of significance in your children's lives, "Man Up," respect your wife, the mother of your children, whether you are still married to her or not, it may affect how successful their future relationships are. Spend time with your children, doing activities they enjoy, read to them, play ball and sit at the tea table with your daughter; if L.L. Cool J can do it on T.V., then you're not too cool to do it as well. Help with the homework, call them when you are away, Skype, leave notes, express yourself, tell them about yourself and what you've learned in life. Sure, sometimes they'll think you're a dinosaur no matter how young you may be, or think you are, but keep doing it, those stories are priceless. Father's Day you can ask for the day off, if you really want it. Good luck getting it, because if you are a great dad chances are your kids are going to be sitting there right on your lap or just longing to be near the first and special guy of significance in their lives.

Barbara Lazaroff, ASID
Designer, restaurateur, philanthropist, co-author Wishes for a Mother's Heart, Hay House, Amazon Books, founder CalSpirit Gala, www.calspirit.org