Well I see the calendar has made it around again to another one of our Hallmark holidays. The third Sunday in June is fast approaching, which means the advertising flyers have been filled with promotions for what you can buy dear old Dad. Power tools and the latest in fancy barbecue accessories are on sale just so you can show your appreciation.
Just to drive home the point, each page in most companies’ flyers features a picture of a smiling, handsome man, with an equally ecstatic son or daughter perched on his shoulder. Happy families: they’re like little scenes right out of a Norman Rockwell painting or a sixties sitcom.
For years these images used to really piss me off and at the same time make me feel an incredible sense of loss. You see, not matter how you looked at it, that depiction has as little to do with my childhood reality, as reality television has to do with my current reality; in other words, nothing what so ever.
In the United State there have been 40 million reported cases of parental sexual abuse. Considering the number of cases that go unreported because of the coercion placed on the victims by their abuser, these numbers could easily be much higher. It is also known that males, i.e. fathers, have committed 89% of all sexual abuse acts against children.
Of course, then there are the households where the father may not have touched the kids but would routinely physically or emotionally abuse the mother, or the father was constantly drunk and the family walked on tenterhooks not knowing when the next explosion would come. Living in fear of a parents is almost as bad as being beaten by them.
You want to know something really great that I just found while writing this article? Some states have separate laws for incest and sexual assault. In New York, if a man rapes his daughter and is charged with incest, he could get away with probation and might even be allowed to continue seeing his daughter. Isn’t that a lovely Father’s Day image for you?
“Don’t worry dear, father knows best – let me show you.”
I’m sorry did that make you feel a little sick? Well, that’s too bad. It’s time for North America to wake up and realize that this whole image of happy families is a myth for a huge chunk of people. Forty-million children in a country with a population of around 300 million have been sexually abused. That is one in seven people, and those are only the reported incidences.
Do you know how it makes people feel whose childhoods were horrible when they see these advertisements featuring smiling Dad? First of all, we feel like we have an incredible sense of loss at what we missed out on. When your idea of quality time spent with your father is him sneaking into you bedroom at night, these pictures represent a world as alien as Mars.
For the longest time you feel like there must have been something wrong with you, that you didn’t deserve to be treated with love and respect or have the good times that it looks like everyone else had. These holidays make you feel insignificant. Everybody talks about how the numbers of suicides increase around Christmas – it’s for pretty much the same reasons. All the emphasis on family for people who never had one is enough to make you feel like there’s nothing to live for.
In the United States, Father’s Day was started through the efforts of Sonora Smart Dodd in order to celebrate the life of her father, who raised six children on his own, with the first commemoration being in 1910. It wasn’t until 1972 though, that Richard Nixon made it a national holiday, although what that means I’m not really sure, since you don’t get time off from work for it.
Like all other secular holidays, it has become co-opted by the retail industry as a means of encouraging people to go out and spend money. It’s mainly due to their efforts, and the advertising firms they hire to create their campaigns, that the image of the ideal father who deserves hundreds of dollars being spent on him every third Sunday in June was invented.
The thing is, there are fathers out there who are genuine heroes who deserve to be honoured every day of their lives, not just one day a year. For those of us who don’t have fathers we want to remember, it’s hard to understand people who wouldn’t be eternally grateful for a father who treats them with love and respect.
Perhaps the original intent of having one day a year set aside to honour the efforts of a parent in raising you was noble, but he way it is set up now is more insulting to the idea of real parental love than anything else. Why should a parent need to be bought a gift for him or her to know that their efforts have been appreciated? Don’t their children let them know in any other way?
Perhaps because I never had a relationship with my father that could be considered in any way loving or supportive, I have a different perspective on how one should appreciate the generosity of spirit that is required for one human being to devote so much of his life to ensuing the well being of another. Maybe it’s sort of like that Joni Mitchell song where she says “you don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone,” except here it’s you don’t know what you have because you have it.
When you’re like me and the only ritual you feel like doing on Father’s Day is spitting on his grave while you’re checking to make sure the bastard is really dead, you’re really aware of what was missing from your life. Perhaps before you go out and buy some expensive gift for your father in the next couple of days, you might want to take the time to really appreciate what it is you have, and tell him that instead. I bet that would mean more to him than any gold-plated barbecue set.