I’m really not a fan of Father’s day. I never particularly have been in the first place, as it all seems a bit manufactured – the first recorded calls for a day recognising fathers are from 1908 (1), from a Grace Golden Clayton, from Fairmont, West Virginia, although others claim Sonora Dodd, from Washington, came up with the idea in 1910 (ibid). Dodd certainly helped popularise the event in the US; during the thirties she “had the help of those trade groups that would benefit most from the holiday, for example the manufacturers of ties, tobacco pipes, and any traditional present for fathers” (2), who helped to push the event commercially. In 1966 the event was recognised by the US government as an official holiday; it has yet to reach official recognition in the UK, unlike Mothering Sunday, which is as old as the hills. Tied to the fourth Sunday in Lent, Mothering Sunday shifts about with Easter, and was originally an opportunity for servants to go visit their “mother” church if they lived away from their home parish, and therefore pop in to see mum too (3). As with all of these things, it’s hard to pick up on an exact date when mothering Sunday originated, with varying dates between the C16th (4) and medieval periods (5) although the modern festival as we currently recognise it in the UK was somewhat revived through hearing what the yanks were up to at the turn of the C20th with Mother’s Day (6). I’m not a historian, though, so I’m not going to delve too deeply into the origins of Mothering Sunday, as others have done it better, save to say that unlike Father’s Day, Mothering Sunday has been about. It is established.
Consequently, celebrating father’s day, an event which owes it success to the desire to flog more tie pins, seems a little disingenuous.
I suppose I should write a little more about my relationship with my father, for context. He’s a quiet, unassuming, mild mannered Englishman, who enjoys nothing more than pottering about in his shed, wearing overalls, restoring classic cars and tractors, because that’s what his father did, and he quite enjoys it too, principally for the peace and quiet that it brings. In said shed, he has carefully sorted nails, screws and geegaws into jam-jars, with useful bits of wood sorted and prepared. On the day someone needs a 7/16ths counter sunk screw head, he will be ready. I am his nail holder; the steadier of the torch, his tool passer. His firewood supply has a carefully regulated system, in order to ensure he has a ready supply of firewood from now until the ending of the world. He owns several pairs of slippers. He hates having a fuss made of him, he enjoys reading, and can find any obscure subject interesting. He has a degree in engineering, a particular love for aviation, and vintage aircraft at that. He seldom drinks, and enjoys quiet walks in the countryside and his idea of a perfect holiday is to go camping somewhere in Wales. He can do complex mental arithmetic under intense pressure and he knows several ways to kill a man with his bare hands. He collects ladybird books. His kettle is always on, his biscuit barrel is always stocked, his door is always open. He is useful.
If he smoked, he would smoke a pipe.
That’s not the whole picture, of course. He’s a good man, without a shadow of a doubt, but I’m only painting his finer points. He’s scruffy beyond belief, he was absent due to work a lot when I was younger and he’s lost around technology. But the key point I’m getting at in all that is “doesn’t like a fuss”. He’s just not that sort of chap. His idea of an ideal Father’s day would be one with no interruptions, where he can finally sort out that oil sump leak on the Massey-Ferguson. That’s the essence of the chap, and the context to why I’m really not a fan of Father’s day. I feel like I don’t really want to bother him. I know I can pop round any time I like, without forewarning, and do so regularly. We have a very close relationship. I recognise just how extremely lucky in this regard.
But right now, that’s not why I’m annoyed about Father’s day. Right now there’s the other thing.
The childlessness thing.
I want to be a father myself. More than that, I want to be the sort of father my father was to me. Normally, the disappointment isn’t too bad, it’s just one of those things, which only rears itself once a month, and now we’ve gotten used to it, we’re becoming more and more accepting. But this morning was hard. It’s my own fault; I shouldn’t have looked at social media, and facebook in particular. There were dozens of pictures of friends with their children, or old pictures of them as babies with their parents, pictures from female friends proclaiming what wonderful fathers their other halves were. A huge, unstoppable wave of everyone seems to be a father but you. Twitter was little better; people I follow announcing what great fathers they have, or know. Worst of all was one woman I follow out of politeness, who doesn’t know that we’re undergoing IVF, gushing about how wonderful her father was, then tweeting “As always, if today is difficult for you for any reason at all, take care of yourself and do what you need to do. You’re in my thoughts.”
Well, yeah. Ta. That makes it all better. Except it doesn’t, of course; the only person who feels better there is her. I know she probably means well, but still… She’s probably not given seven seconds’ thought to those who have lost their fathers, or those who can’t have children, beyond thinking how virtuous it makes her look. No amount of “you’re in my thoughts” solves this problem; what’s needed is a lab, a staff, a bucket of hormones and a bunch of petri dishes. That’s what solves this particular problem. Fathers day is utter hell when you’re not one, and when that’s all you want out of life. Everywhere you look is a constant reminder that biology has let you down. Maybe next year will be different, but in the meantime I’m a bit grumpy about it all.
Of course, the world doesn’t revolve around me. I can vent here, quietly behind the veil of anonymity. Meanwhile, I know that there’s the occupant of a shed somewhere who’s quietly thankful for the peace and quiet today, and who will appreciate someone popping round for a cup of tea later, to take a look at the wheel bearings he’s reassembled for his Austin Seven, and to not make a fuss about any of it.