I have always abhorred so-called “Hallmark” holidays, the sole purpose of which is to prompt needless consumption and boost the profits of card-makers, florists and chocolatiers.
My wife and I always deliberately boycotted Valentine’s Day. I have never drunk a green-dyed drink or dressed in emerald colours on St. Patrick’s Day. Nor, when I lived in the US, did I ever eat tacos or drink tequila on Cinco de Mayo, which even most Americans erroneously think is the Mexican independence day (it actually marks a victory over the French).
By the same token, I haven’t even considered doing anything on the ridiculously contrived Grandparents’ Day or the frankly preposterous Siblings’ Day, although I had the former and continue to have one of the latter.
But Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are different.
The importance of mothers has been recognised for millennia, including by the ancient Greeks and Romans. Fatherhood and paternal bonds have been celebrated, most notably through efforts by the Catholic Church, since the Middle Ages. But Father’s and Mother’s Day weren’t formalised as national holidays until about a century ago.
Mother’s Day was founded by a woman called Anna Jarvis in 1908 in memory of her own mother, a well-known pacifist who had also campaigned to reduce infant mortality. Father’s Day was established in about 1910, largely thanks to the efforts of several women.
Anna Jarvis was appalled that what had started as a personal remembrance day was soon corrupted by the likes of Hallmark (which produced its first Mother’s Day cards in the 1920s), famously writing “A printed card means nothing except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world.” She spent the rest of her life – and all her considerable wealth – combatting the commercialisation of Mother’s Day, ending her days penniless in a mental institution.
Our kids have always made their own cards or gifts on Mother’s and Father’s Day, albeit sometimes encouraged by their teachers at school. A now extremely faded and barely legible garland reading “Bonne fête Maman” has hung on our bathroom mirror for about seven years. A letter-opener my son made and decorated for me about five years ago is in my desk tidy and in use to this day, although the paint is peeling off and the tip is a little frayed.
When my daughter was small, she and I would play a silly game: she’d say, “I love you, Daddy.” To which I would reply, “I love you too.” This prompted her to say, “I love you more,” to which I would always reply, “And I love you even more.” With a big grin on her face, she would then announce, “And I love you even, even morest!”
Her homemade cards were always elaborate, but three years ago she gave me a special Father’s Day gift: even though we live in France, she managed to find a small wooden box labelled “Love you more.” To which she added an “S” and a “T.” She then filled the box with little pieces of paper listing all the things she liked about me. I see that box every day as I sit at my computer.
I was thrilled by all these gifts and cards at the time, and they still bring me joy, but I don’t think I truly appreciated these tokens of kindness until now.
Two years ago, my wife decided she and I should call it quits after nearly a quarter of a century together. I’ve not received anything on Father’s Day since, despite the fact that our children still live mainly with me. Although I have steadfastly reminded, cajoled and in some cases almost bullied them into doing something for Mother’s Day, it’s obvious that my now ex-wife has not done likewise, for whatever reason.
When last year’s Father’s Day came and went unmarked, I brushed it off, telling myself that I didn’t need a piece of paper to confirm that my children appreciated me. But last night, as the clock ticked past midnight and Father’s Day Sunday became just another Monday, I found myself on the balcony with a drink, realising that it hurt. A lot.
It’s wasn’t pride, wounded or otherwise. It was utter disappointment, partly at my ex, with whom I had parted ways on amicable terms, partly at our kids. Given my views on Hallmark holidays, I hadn’t expected or really even wanted anything material. A simple “Happy Father’s Day!” and a hug would have sufficed. Anything that showed they were glad I was there for them.
For 17 years, I have organised my life around theirs. Because their mother is at the office all day while I work from home, I have done all the shopping, cooked all their meals and driven them to (and picked them up from) school, friends, sport and sundry other extracurricular activities all their lives. Most recently, I have also cleaned up after them and washed all their clothes. I have volunteered for school activities and attended all their parent-teacher conferences and information meetings. I haven’t missed a single school play, concert or movie night. I have organised and bought all their school supplies, planned and paid for all our and their holidays. I have given them pocket money – which they never fail to remind me about, though rarely spend any of it – and paid for them to go on piano camps and optional school trips, often abroad. Earlier this month, I flew to England with our daughter for a week, driving a thousand miles around the country to help her choose a university. Even though, as a freelancer, I don’t get paid leave and therefore was losing money simply by not working.
I know my kids are teenagers and have other, more pressing things to occupy their minds, be it watching YouTube videos or texting their friends from the moment they get home until late at night. Perhaps when they are grown up and have kids of their own, they will realise just how much parents do for their children, and how much children take it for granted.
Maybe then I’ll get a phone call and a “Thanks, Dad.” That alone would make my Father’s Day.