Today is Father's Day.
In Catholic Europe, fathers had been celebrated since the Middle Ages, albeit in March, coinciding with the feast of St. Joseph.
As early as 1908, a young grieving woman, Grace Clayton, in West Virginia wanted to honor her father who had been killed in a tragic mining accident. With 361 men dead, 250 of them were fathers, leaving Grace and countless others fatherless. She lobbied with her local pastor to set aside a day to honor these men. That didn’t happen, but her efforts were repeated by others in various ways and in various towns and states.
On a trip to the state of Washington in the early 1900s, President Woodrow Wilson wanted to proclaim it a national holiday, but Congress thought it ill advised, fearing it would be commercialized.
It took several decades of lobbying for the celebration of Father’s Day to be officially recognized as a national holiday in the United States by President Richard Nixon in 1972. Mother’s Day had been in full swing – we can thank Anna Jarvis for that.
My father passed away more than 20 years ago. I can still recall that day in June when my sister phoned from Oregon to tell me, “Dad has died.” I felt a hard punch to my stomach from across the miles. I lost my breath, told her I’d call her back and slumped to the floor in tears.
We had moved to Virginia years before and, in between visits, my father would regularly phone on Friday evenings or Saturday mornings to find out how things were going, how were his grandchildren, or what was the weather like. I counted on those conversations to keep me connected with this man, far away, but ever close to my heart.
A stern disciplinarian, he could cut me to the quick with a look. An engineer, he couldn’t understand or, perhaps never accepted, that math was not my forte. But at the beginning of each school year, he would meticulously cover my books, take me to the store to buy school supplies and he did help me with homework – particularly anything to do with numbers.
I am half Filipina (on his side) and half Spanish (on my mother’s). When I was in grade school, around age 7, I knew that I didn’t look like most of the other children. It didn’t bother me, but I was curious, so I asked my father. “Dad, what am I?” He looked at me and said, “You’re an American, that’s all you need to know.”
That was fine with me. My father came to this country from the Philippines in the late 1920s, became an American citizen, graduated with several engineering degrees, married my mother, was a commander in the U.S. Navy, loved to play golf, drive Cadillacs, and, bottom line, spoil me.
At times, he would get exasperated with my exuberance or stubbornness or persistence and would blurt out, “What’s the matter with you … are you crazy or something?” Well, I knew I wasn’t crazy, so I had to be the “or something.”
I attended a Catholic grade school taught by Holy Child nuns. They could be a harsh lot. One in particular — a tall, thin, willowy apparition—scared me to death. Normally, my father left the school conference meetings to my mother but when I was in the fifth grade, he went with her. I feared the worst.
It was my father that came to me later that evening.
“Something is wrong with that woman … I think she is a witch … don’t worry about her … you’re fine.”
I glowed. Everything was now right with the world. I had my father’s unconditional love and support and that was all that mattered. He was my champion.
When I headed off to college, I wanted to major in art. He would have none of that, telling me that art was a hobby. Thus, I majored in communications with an emphasis in editorial journalism. My first Christmas home from campus, his gift was an artist’s box filled with paintbrushes, tubes of paint in many colors and linseed oil.
My father liked bits of information about history. He loved to tinker and build things. He could sew. He could cook. He was patriotic. He loved this country. He provided well for his family.
I believe, that for a daughter, your father is your first love. He gives you his hand, his heart and, when he is gone, no matter your age, for a time, you feel abandoned, lost, an orphan.
A few days after my father passed, it was morning and I was about to get up. The window next to my bed was open just a crack. There was no wind outside, but I felt a distinct rush of air hit my face.
Was that you Dad, or am I crazy … or something?
Sunday is Father’s Day. I miss you.
Reach Anita Sherman at firstname.lastname@example.org