Posted by: chlost | June 19, 2011

Fathers, we hardly knew thee

Father’s Day isn’t nearly as big a deal as Mother’s Day. It never was.

It did not officially become recognized in the US until 1972, when then President Nixon signed a bill proclaiming the third Sunday of June as Father’s Day. In contrast, Mother’s Day had been officially recognized nearly 60 years earlier.

Are fathers as important as mothers? Back in the day, they weren’t.

In my family, dad was a second class citizen most of the time. He went to work and  often did not come home until we were in bed. He worked for IBM, as part of a large project. He was expected to pour his heart, mind and soul into the project. Back then, the family was secondary to his work. He left early in the morning, came home for an hour or so for dinner, and went back to work until late at night. There was only one car in our family at that time, so my mom had to take the car for a quick run to the store if we needed groceries. There were four kids to feed, after all. As he made us secondary, we found him to be secondary in family life. One time, he shaved off a mustache and no one in the family noticed for several days. It wasn’t unusual. That’s just how it worked back then.

Maybe because it was rare,my fondest memories of my dad were when he was at home. He made corn fritters for breakfast.  He loved to sing. We would go to concerts to see him in a men’s chorus.  He would dance with me in the living room to albums of the Kingston Trio. For a time, he had roles in a community theater, we were in the audience to see him play the cardinal in “Man of La Mancha” or as Lazar Wolf in “Fiddler on the Roof“. I have loved theater ever since. He allowed 9-year-old me on top of the garage to help him shingle the roof, then wrote a story about it for my birthday. I still have that story, written in pencil with illustrations.

There were other times when he completely embarrassed his three daughters (our brother was much younger). On weekend mornings, he would sit in his favorite living room chair, wearing only jockey shorts, reading.  He was a very large man, 6′ 7” and very heavy set-he stood out in a crowd. As a teen, I did not want to stand out. He told stories. Repeatedly. The same story. The same way. In every telling of the story, the theatrical pauses, the tone of voice was exactly the same. My sisters’ and my eyes rolled just as theatrically every time we heard those stories. Our only vacations were to see his family. He had dozens of cousins and aunts and uncles. We did not see Disneyland or the Grand Canyon as children. We felt cheated.

My dad and mom divorced just as I was getting married. He remarried quite quickly to a woman who did not like his family. We did not see him much for many years. After they divorced, he came back into the family. He married a third time to a woman who encouraged him to get to know his children and grandchildren. He was able to build a good relationship with his grandchildren in those few years. I think that he realized what he had missed all those years ago by not being there as we were growing up. He attended graduations, concerts, plays, and sporting events of the grandchildren, driving three hours to be there. Thank you Anne.

My dad has been gone for nearly six years now. He was a second class citizen in our family, sometimes from circumstances beyond his control, and sometimes by choice.  Even so, his role in our family was important. One that I didn’t fully appreciate until he was gone. Fathers were not valued in family life. I have made an effort to be sure that my husband’s role as a father has been much different. I’m not sure my husband realized that he was part of this effort, but I think we have succeeded. He is an equal member of our family and always has been.

I missed my dad when he was gone back then, and I miss him now.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad. Wish I could give you a big hug and smell that mix of Old Spice cologne and pipe tobacco.

My Dad, circa 1970



  1. I have conflicting feelings about my dad. He tried to be a dad but he was also haunted by alcoholism which brought a lot of grief to our family.

    I just got father’s day cards from two of my daughters; I did not realize how traumatized they were by my recent heart surgery and brush with death. I must confess, their words brought me to tears – they really alleviated any doubts I might have had about being a good father.

    • Somehow, Robert, even having never met you, I would have guessed that you are a great dad. And that takes a lot of effort and love if you did not have a positive role model to follow. Happy Father’s Day to you.

  2. And there you have it: Within the family, until the eighties, men were the second class citizens and, in the wider world, the women were. This gender integration experiment keeps stalling out on us, taking time to teeter on stiletto heels or impoverish itself for just one more fabulous handbag.

    In my case, both parents were careerists, but my mother still did most of the parenting. And yet, they were always both there wherever one of them was; his parenting was more passive, quieter, more a supporting role than a starring one. I loved my Dad because he was kind, wry, and responsible, because I looked like him and shared his introversion, and because he was mine. Children will love their parents for that last reason, if for no other.

    Glad you got your father back before you lost him.

    • Thanks. I keep hoping that society can figure this stuff out. I see kids whose parents clearly are not able to parent them, and the kids still love them, or at least love the concept of their loving family. So many social workers don’t get this. They can’t figure out how a kid can still love a parent who has neglected or hurt them.
      Anyway, I am glad that my dad rediscovered his family. We lost a lot of time with him.

  3. I have mixed feelings about my dad but that’s natural given the circumstances. However, one of my regrets is that I didn’t know him better.

    • I think we all have mixed feelings about our parents, but some have more negative feelings in the mixture than others. It is very difficult for a child to really know their parents, even in the best of situations.

  4. i think mom and dad are two wheels of a bike…and both are necessary for us 🙂

    • There are all sorts of parenting, and all sorts of families. The more people who love a child, the better for the child. It may or may not be a mother and a father. Unicycles work, as do tricycles or bicycles with training wheels.

  5. I hugely appreciate your observation that his making you all secondary resulted in a payback of that status. This seems to be the case in many, many families (maybe more in the past than nowadays?).

    Lovely writing, this.

    • I hope that nowadays things are getting better, but there seems to be a new (again) trend of some of the newest mothers to stay at home with children while dad is off to work. It is hard for the working parent to be as close to the children as a stay-at-home parent, no matter how loving.

  6. Sometimes an “absent” Dad is better than one who is around.

    • Yes, that is certainly true in some cases, but I have found that most kids have a fantasy wish for their parents to be in their life no matter how awful the parents may be. I feel lucky that my dad was a good guy.

  7. I am touched by your honest and heartfelt tribute to your dad. There is nothing like having our own children to help us understand that our parents were doing the best they could given the culture and time period they found themselves in. I regret being so critical of my parents when I was younger. Now I appreciate what they did teach me, as they modeled an unusually egalitarian relationship, based on mutuality and interdependence, for me and my sister. I took that for granted until I realized it was so rare. Your dad was very handsome!

    • Yes, seeing your parents from an adult perspective is so much different than from that of a child. The experiences within a family can be different for each child, as well. My brother, 10 years younger than I , was more directly impacted by our parents’ divorce, and had a limited experience of our parents’ good years together. I never really thought of my dad as a handsome guy, but maybe so! He was just dad.

  8. Fathers had ALL the power in my family. Isn’t it funny how it can be different in every family?

    Lovely to read your virtual hug.

    • I think it is good that families can be so different, I only ask that children be loved and cared for by the adults in their lives.

  9. I grew up in the fifties and sixties. With Ozzie and Harriet (if Ozzie was a communist). Dad went to work and came home on the bus at 4:50pm every night; dinner on the table at 5:30; regular bedtimes enforced. Mommy stayed home and made bread and doled out hugs, Daddy took us tromping to the woods on weekends to look for salamanders. I have no idea if this set-up was ideal from their point of view, but it sure worked out for this kid. So much security that I had to make all of my subsequent mistakes by myself. I can’t blame them on them.

    • My parents tried that Ozzie and Harriet for a while, but I don’t think either one of them were real excited about it. My mom needed more than us kids. I was lucky (in my view) to have my mom as a role model for a woman. She worked as a nurse when she could, she volunteered when she couldn’t. Way back in the 70’s, she worked and volunteered for social justice organizations and Planned Parenthood. My dad was fine with that-his mom worked as a single mother through the 30’s and 40’s after being widowed. They didn’t stay married, but I think for the most part, they respected each other.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: