Recently, I signed up for an online floral service so I can send flowers on holidays, graduations, births, funerals, and special occasions. To be honest, though, I rarely send flowers for a funeral. I figure if the deceased was important enough to send flowers, they’re important enough for me to show up at the funeral. It’s the least I can do. I have a black, Italian suit that I look sharp in. When the time comes, I might even be buried in it myself.
But now I am on the service’s mailing list, so I get an email every day. I’m not sure why, but I haven’t unsubscribed yet. It might be because the idea of sending flowers just for the sake of it appeals to my sensitive side. Yes, I have one. Some believe it functions more like an appendix, which is to say not at all, but today is Father’s Day so I will be kind to myself.
Today’s holiday has not gone unnoticed by my friends at the floral service. They have been sending emails for the past two weeks in preparation for the event. And no wonder. Who sends flowers on Father’s Day? It’s just not done. Their most recent email screamed “Don’t Forget Dad!” in bold letters. Whether they intended it or not, this sums up the holiday nicely and the role fathers play in contemporary society. We have to be reminded about dads.
Who has to be reminded about moms? Florists could no more get by without Mother’s Day than they could without Christmas. The entire industry would implode. I’m not begrudging mothers, especially since one in particular may read this post. But if Father’s Day were to disappear from the calendar or be replaced with “Donor Day” or “Grad Dad Day” (marketers have spun gold with the graduation connection), how many people would notice? Fewer still would object.
I’d be okay with merging Father’s Day and Arbor Day, which takes place April 30. People plant trees then. What better symbol could there be for fathers and fatherhood? Like trees, fathers are sturdy, life giving, ubiquitous, and blended into the scenery. In fact, they are the scenery. That kids climb both is a bonus. They could call the new holiday “Father Arbor Day,” except people might think it’s the name of a priest.
One very important function separates fathers from mothers. Fathers tell the truth, which is not to say that mothers lie, but they varnish things over. And maybe that’s the important distinction–varnish–which brings us right back to trees and wood. Mothers accept their children no matter what they do; fathers accept them in spite of what they do.
Ideally, fathers don’t let you get away with calling up down or in out, especially when they spot disaster in the offing. Not every father acts ideally, of course, and not every father stands tall or affirms life just as some trees die from blight. But my experience tells me that the distinction holds, like marriage, for better or worse.
My father provided for his family, working two jobs his entire life. He didn’t instruct me formally, except on how to throw a curve ball and sitting me down for the “conversation” after he and my mother found out I knew what a condom was. But he did two things that I recognize only now and for which I am grateful.
First, he listened to my crazy schemes without mockery or negativity, which I see now must have been hard for him. It would have been hard for me if we had switched places. For instance, I never made it onto that Norwegian freighter.
Second, and this is something we can no longer assume as a society, he was there for me. Whether I liked it or not, I could count on him being present and doing the dirty work (e.g., picking up the car I abandoned purposely in the snow on the Pennsylvania Turnpike). I did things like that when I was young, which meant he had to act responsibly for both of us.
So, if I worked for the floral service, I wouldn’t try to get people to remember dad. I’d have them recognize how they made it to adulthood in the first place.
Image credits: feature, Tim Mossholder; other photos, family time warp. This post is dedicated to the memory of Arthur Anthony Brancatelli (1933-2014).