Have a… Day

It’s complicated.

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 Fathers’ Day.

Have a happy Fathers’ Day.

Have a 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.

19 thoughts on “Have a… Day

  1. I refer to Father’s Day and Mother’s Day as “Hallmark Holidays,” along with Valentine’s Day. It all comes down to crass commercialism, but, as you say, for some people, it’s a way to show recognition and appreciation. But isn’t that something that should be expressed every day?

  2. I have two adult children. My daughter is from my first marriage. My son is my current wife’s son whom I adopted at his request when he was 20 years old. I have not spoken to, nor had any form of communication from either of them for years. (It’s complicated) Today was just another day in my wonderful life, and I don’t think any contact with either of them would have made it any better. So. I just had a day.

  3. Gloria

    I have said this to several people over the years (about the 3 holidays mentioned in comments), and I have always gotten a crazed look from them, probably not necessarily because they had/have wonderful relationships, but they are too afraid to admit otherwise. If I were to ever be in another relationship again, I would tell him I want to be shown love 365 days a year, and so I don’t need something on February 14 to apologize for not doing that. Father’s Day is tolerable. I lost mine in 1994. We have a true heart connection, which is still there, but he wasn’t able to show or communicate his love, so it was always a confusing relationship. Every year, I rejoice the day after Mother’s Day. Mine took her life May 5 (the anniversary of which is very close to every Mother’s Day), and the woman my father married after that was a narcissistic who went out of her way to make me feel unlovable and worthless. Thank you for this. It’s time people started realizing that not all of us not only don’t like these holidays, but they can bring back feelings of loss and pain.

  4. “…they are too afraid to admit otherwise.”
    I think this is it in many cases. One is supposed to be happy about these days, if you accept the barrage of marketing messages. Admitting that you don’t have something to celebrate can make you feel like there is something wrong with you. But I’m quite done with having my self- worth determined by the marketing machine.

  5. Hi Muddy.. you know this morning as all the tributes to fathers started to surface on Facebook I felt a few pangs of sadness for those of my friends who can no longer spend time with fathers because they’ve passed on. One of my friends posted that he would give anything for even just an hour today with his dad, I was so sad for him. It’s tough too for those who have conflicted relationships, or for one reason or another have been separated from their fathers or fathers from their children… I know a father in this position too and it’s painful for him and for the children. Of course it is commercially driven, that’s the world we live in. I was glad to see your post because I hadn’t actually acknowledged the sadness I felt for my friends today, it was just hanging around ‘in there’, unnoticed… I can let it go now 🙂 Have a beautiful….day ❤

  6. When I called my Dad this Father’s day, I just said “hello Father”…he said hi with a questioning tone..I asked “are you happy today?” He paused said yes and asked why I called him Father, then quickly realized what I did, chuckled and moved on to update me on his stuff going on.

    He was happy on that day, and happy to hear from me. Done. My dad doesn’t need a big deal, mom on the other hand judges every thing and still only gets a card and a call from me usually. Over the last few years I’ve realized there is no making her happy so I will do what I feel is apropos and not feel bad or apologize for it.

    1. It sounds like you have a very healthy approach to both relationships! It’s too bad your mom never learned to generate her own happiness instead of expecting it from others. I know too many people like that.

      1. I think she is one that is happiest in her misery, if you know what I mean.

        Father’s Day is hard for me tho because I think most about my brother and that he wasn’t able to be here for his kids growing up.

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