It ain’t so simple, even when it should be, this Norman Rockwell, Hallmarkian view of Father’s Day. An astounding number of young men and women in this country either don’t know who their father’s are, or if they do, where their father’s are. If they do they know a man who recent research says was well-meaning and looked to having a child for a fresh start, to make up for the kind of life of which he was deprived. Usually, within a year to 18 months either it wasn’t panning out for myriad reasons, many that should have been more obvious before the child was conceived, or because the mother didn’t see in the father the engine that would drive them up and out of poverty, he was gone.
These children grow up usually with one or more step fathers and half brothers and sisters, and step brothers and sisters sometimes dotted around the neighborhood, the city, or the country. Father’s Day is no Hallmark card for them, and the tens of thousands in even worse familial and economic circumstances.
It was not like that for me, but that didn’t make it the ideal either.
I grew up in a solidly upper middle class neighborhood in a solidly upper middle class home in a two parent, one wage earner family. We needed mostly nothing we didn’t have, though the nature of things was we wanted a bunch more. Me? I wanted a bicycle that wasn’t my brother’s prior to being mine. My brother? More stability in domicile as we started “movin’ on up,” living in five different places in about 8 years until we found “the house.” My mother? A Cadillac and a mink coat, at least that was what was expressed. I think too she wanted to do something out of the house, to do something with her college degree and her mind rather than supervise the manse and raise the children and read copious numbers of books.
The problem on the “want” end was dear ole dad.
Dad was the product of the Great Depression and the product of a society that was not only still male dominated but was holding to rigid job descriptions for fathers and mothers and sons and daughters. It was a great time to be a successful male–or the family pet. The Great Depression and the job description were Dad’s albatrosses. As the middle child of five, but the oldest male, he had to change his life’s goals as my grandfather began “movin’ on down” during the Depression until they were a family of 7 in a three room sub-street apartment where the girls slept in one bed, the boys in the other, both in the same room, mom and dad sleeping in the living room, and no one in the kitchen. The great sacrifice was giving up his dream to be a violinist, and then a physician, to become a dentist because it was a two year shorter course than med school and therefore would bring in much needed money more quickly.
The other lesson? Never work for someone else. While you never knew when that dollar in your pocket could be your last so husband it, at least if you worked for yourself no one could fire you and dictate that the dollar he gave you would absolutely be your last.
The job description? Simple. The father was the “hunter-gather.” It was his job to provide. Thus he worked long hours, usually catching the train to his office by 8, leaving the house by 7:30 and usually returning at 7 pm to face two sons ravenously hungry because mom believed the family should always eat together. One enduring repeated moment of affection is well remembered. I’d usually be in the kitchen when he arrived, trying to survive on the odors of dinner. When he’d come in the door I’d race down the length of the house into his outstretched arms and his big smile. That was father’s day no matter what day it was. Unfortunately it was mostly the only moment of affection but for a nightly kiss before bed. I never knew until it really didn’t matter that he was a championship hand ball player and he could do magical things pitching a baseball.
Not in his job description as a father so no need, I guess.
For many years he also worked on Saturdays so we didn’t do much as a family because on Sunday he was beat from fulfilling his job description providing the needs and fretting over the wants. Saying “I love you” or “‘love u,” which today rolls off everyone’s lips to almost everyone they know, wasn’t part of the male job description. My mother wanted for it and so did my brother and I. It wasn’t until she was dying of cancer that she heard it repeatedly and almost as a “thank you” for the endless hours I spent with him in the hospital did I begin to get mine. That expressiveness lasted, I must say, after her death until his. My lesson learned? I told my own kids I loved them all the time–even sometimes when I wasn’t so sure…like the time one poured a gallon of white paint on the green living room couch. And sometime when with their friends, it embarrassed them.
So how did we spend Father’s Day? Like most Sundays, bagels and lox but with the addition of a card bought for us by mother and a shirt bought for us by mother both to give him. Later in life, I hit my stride, bought my own stuff for him. The high point was finding a set of dental tools from the mid-1800’s in an antique store. That was a great gift!
It wasn’t until years later that it dawned on me that my father was indeed worthy of a day. One of the reasons he worked such long hours and my mother was late to her mink was that he never forgot his beginnings and never would charge what his extraordinary talents and Madison Avenue address could have brought. Everyone, he said, deserved the best health care available.
He was also the first dentist in his class to open an office in a building, not in a home, his or rented, in a neighborhood. He put both of his brother through school, dental for one and medical for the other. He drew high heat from anti-communists for his doing commercials supporting the campaign to fluoridate New York City’s water. He treated walk ins during the war from the Brooklyn Navy Yard for free. And he practiced his craft unfailingly for 67 of his 87 years.
It wasn’t until years later that I realized that he executed the job description given him to a “T” and that was how he showed us the unremitting love and devotion of a father.
It doesn’t take a day to make a father. It takes a commitment.
——————————————————————————–If you like the ramblings and occasional rumbling of “atleastfrommyperspectiveblog” check out “Mirth, Wind, and Ire” at http://www.smashword.com/book/view/692523 or on your Kindle or Nook.
And be on the lookout in the Fall for “More Mirth, Wind and Ire.”