And by “it” I mean families. Which is why I find the whole notion of “Mothers’ Day” and “Fathers’ Day” problematic.
For some families, it’s an unnecessary guilt trip. I have a good relationship with my mother. Likewise I know that, through all our differences, my kids love me. It irks me that on one particular calendar day we are somehow expected to go through a set of motions to prove all that. For one of my daughters, Mothers’ Day falls at a point in her school year that is outrageously busy. I try that to make it clear that I personally have no expectations surrounding this date, but at the same time I am not immune to thinking that, regardless of the fact that I do things with my mother on a regular basis, I must organize some so sort of joint activity on this particular day, regardless of whether doing so fits with everything else that is going on in our collective lives.
For other families, it’s a slap in the face. Today is Fathers’ Day. My own father died in 1990. I know children who are estranged from their father for a variety of complicated reasons. I know children and fathers who would like to spend the day together but are prevented from doing so by equally complicated reasons. For any family that is going through any number of crises, these days serve only to pour salt into already gaping wounds. And that’s not even talking about those situations where a parent is, or has been, genuinely abusive.
It’s all about the marketing. At my most cynical, I see both days as elaborate marketing gimmicks. If you make a living off of flowers, neckties, or Sunday Brunch, clearly you have a vested interest in these celebrations. And it hurts my head to even think about the number of trees that are felled to produce the rows upon rows of greeting cards, oozing with generic saccharine messages of parent adoration. Messages that, for most families, don’t even begin to capture the complexities of parent-child relationships.
And yet I know that there are good things that come of these arbitrary days. Somewhere the ubiquitous marketing will prompt someone to pick up a phone and call a parent with whom they have not communicated in a long time. Somewhere a small child will gain a new sense of confidence and agency from mastering the toaster in the process of producing a celebratory breakfast-in-bed. In spite of my cynicism, I still have a collection of plaster disks embedded with little handprints tucked away in a box of priceless keepsakes. I am, as evidenced by my previous post, generally a great advocate of the importance of annual rituals and remembrances in our lives.
Lots of families will have brunches and barbeques and other sorts of joyful gatherings today in honour of Fathers’ Day. But here’s the crux for me: maybe those families happily celebrating the day didn’t need the greeting card manufacturers to tell them they should do it today. Maybe the rituals and remembrances about something as personal as family relationships should be just that: personal. Maybe if you are able to celebrate Fathers’ or Mothers’ day uncritically and unambiguously you don’t really need an official day to celebrate the role a particular parent plays in your life, because you celebrate that on a routine basis. If that’s the case, then the only purpose these days serve, aside from the obvious economic purpose, is to make us feel bad when our lives are not, at this precise moment, living up to the expectations placed on us by these secular “holy days.”
Have a happy Fathers’ Day…
Have a happy
happy Fathers’ Day.
happy Fathers’ Day.
Have the day you need to have. Today. Now. In whatever uniquely complicated family situation you find yourself. No neckties required. You don’t even have to be happy if doing so would violate the truth your family is living at this moment. Give yourself permission to just have a day.