|Monday, June 18, 2018. A very sunny weekend with massive clouds passing through on Saturday, and a very warm (90 degrees with a Real Feel of 95) Sunday, for Fathers’ Day across America.
Growing up in mid-20th century America, I early imagined it was created by Hallmark cards since they did a big business with it.
In some countries Father's Day is still observed on March 19th as the feast day of Saint Joseph who is referred to as Nutritor Domini or: “Nourisher of the Lord,” father of Jesus. The Spanish and Portuguese brought it to Latin America although it wasn’t celebrated here until the 20th century, and even then as a companion to Mother’s Day.
In 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson issued the first presidential proclamation honoring fathers, designating the third Sunday in June as Father's Day. Six years later, it was made a permanent national holiday when President Richard Nixon signed it into law in 1972.
I don’t recall ever celebrating Father’s Day when I was growing up. I would not have classified The Old Man (whom we called “Pa”) as a good father. Not at the time. Born in 1900, he managed to father nine — five boys, four girls — between two wives.
He was also “father” to my dear, departed eldest sister Helen. I was his last child, born in 1941. He died in July, in my 32nd year, and over the years that followed I was able to see him with the clarity of the retrospective.
Although to my friends and neighbors, he was always a very nice, friendly and hospitable fellow, and always kind to everyone, he was what in his day was called a “street angel and house devil.” He had a very hard life in many ways, and he made it harder in many ways for himself and for others. As it happened, he did not make it harder for me.
He was not affectionate — but then, nor did it seem, were many of the fathers of friends I had. — although he never said an unkind word to me. But he had a yelling temper bordering on serious violence, which could be scary for a child to witness. Once, when I was 11 or 12 and beginning to feel my oats, I complained to him during one of his fits of rage (I could run faster). His response was not to raise a hand to me but said, “if you think I’m bad, you should have seen my father.”
He was 15 at the time, and his mother went on trial for murder. However, he testified in court that it was in self-defense so that he and his siblings would still have a parent. He never mentioned it, or anything else about his father, or his mother — except that she had quite a temper too (They were both Irish, so it was that kind of expressed temper – loud.)
All my early information about my father’s life and family background came from my mother, who thankfully talked to me all the time about their childhoods and youth, both of which involved early loss of a parent.
About twenty-five years ago when I was researching a piece I was writing for Quest about Vincent Astor, at the end of the article in the Times, my eye peripherally caught the name “Columbia” at the top of a short article: “Columbia Jury Acquits Woman” who pleaded “self-defense.” My grandfather, I had been told, was evidently well known in the community as an alcoholic who also had a raging, physically abusive temper. I understood: so did my father.
My father, and my mother, both born in this country, were children of immigrants at the beginning of the 20th century. They bore the brunt of that immigration and the dark memories of hardships left behind in the old country as well as the hardships of the New World. Neither knew or had the tools that we have to help them through their life crises and their own harsh shortcomings.
Despite that, they gave me a life that included those tools, as well as the opportunity to express it and look at it. From them, I am fortunate and that is possibly the greatest thing one could expect from any father. And mother too. They were there and got me far enough to get to here. Gratitude abounds, and that’s where love is planted.
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