Sunday, June 19, 2005

Father's Day

If we live in such a patriarchal society, why is it that Father's Day is not a holiday of greater or equal magnitude to Mother's Day? In other words, why does Mother's Day have the greatest telephone traffic of the year, and why is it impossible to get a seat in a restaurant on Mother's Day but quite easy on Father's Day (excepting steak houses)?

I think it probably has to do with how we conceive the gender roles of the father and the mother. Fathers are stern, judging disciplinarians, to be sure, but they are also stoic. The stoic dad isn't supposed to be interested in receiving praise from his children. If the father cuts half of his hand off with a circular saw, he's just supposed to put the severed part in his beer cooler to preserve it, wrap up the bloody stump in oil rags and duct tape, and only head to the hospital after he finishes installing the new deck.

[Of course, this stoicism only applies to bleeding wounds and injuries. Dads are allowed to be big babies if they get ill. Moms are the other way around]

Compare the stoic dad to this axiom about mothers: "If Mama ain't happy, ain't no one happy." Mothers react better to such praise because they expect it as naturally due them. Fathers aren't quite sure what all the fuss is about, but aren't going to complain if they get a new toy.

So, in honor of Father's Day and stoicism, let me relate an anecdote about my own father that doesn't involve anything mushy or any crying or any hugging -- in other words, let me tell you an anecdote that dads can actually enjoy reading without squirming uncomfortably:

When I was about 16 years old, I was in an argument with my father in our basement. We had a finished basement that he had done himself, and so most of the interior walls were chalkboard. I was leaning back against a wall trying to look disdainful, and my father was facing me obviously trying not to send me to a well-deserved early grave. I smarted off to him one too many times, and in an effort not to kill me, he punched the wall next to my head. His hand went through the wall and got stuck. I realized that I had gone too far, and beat a hasty retreat.

In a follow-up story that is part of family lore (I had gone off to college when this second part happened), one time my younger and stupider brother was in a similar argument with my father. Like a fool, he actually took a swing at Dad. Dad, knowing that my brother would never survive the pummeling he deserved, again punched the wall. This time, however, his hand went through only partially, and struck one of two load-bearing metal beams in the basement. Dad's response was the only non-stoic one allowed fathers: a string of curses.

So here's to Dad, Toppler of Walls, Striker of Beams, Destroyer of Boards, Utterer of Curses! We praise him for withholding the full force of his wrath!

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