The real meaning of Father's Day

Thursday, June 16, 2011

"The man before him was not an aging father but a boy, a boy much like himself, a boy who grew up and had a child of his own and, as best he could, out of a sense of duty and, perhaps love, adopted a role called Being a Father so that his child would have something mythical and infinitely important: a Protector, who would keep a lid on all the chaotic and catastrophic possibilities of life." --Tom Wolfe.

Glossy newspaper advertising supplements have been heralding the arrival of Father's Day for a couple of weeks now -- reminding children of all ages that it would be a nice idea to get dad a new set of tools, a barbecue grill or, the old standby, a handsome tie.

Whether you spend $9 or $90, fathers will appreciate being recognized by their children on Father's Day this Sunday.

Appreciation is what Sonora Louise Smart Dodd must have been feeling when she suggested to her minister in 1910 that a day be set aside honoring fathers. Her own father, a Civil War veteran, raised his six children on the family farm after his wife died.

Like the father who inspired the holiday a century ago, today's fathers -- like today's moms -- must juggle the responsibilities of work and family. It's not an easy job. So it's time for their beneficiaries to say "thank you" this Sunday.

Father's Day never got respect. From the start, it was treated as a Mother's Day knockoff, and as an excuse for commercial promotions. "Fatherhood," Bill Cosby quipped, "is pretending the present you love most is soap-on-a-rope."

Perhaps that's why "deadbeat dad" is a widely known term. Less well known is that 20 percent of all single parents in America are dads raising their kids alone.

What does a father give to earn his once-a-year soap-on-a-rope? He gives his children what they need. No more, no less. That answer changes every day. What his children need is not necessarily what they crave. To give like that, you have to know what's inside your kids.

Sunday is the day we set aside to gaze back at the men who have watched us all along and thank them for so much.