Make the Most of Time with Dad + How Father’s Day Started

The following homage to my father was written shortly after his untimely death, a month before Father’s Day 2002. The rest of the blog focuses on how Father’s Day began, and how it’s celebrated — then and now.

As I mentioned in last month’s Mother’s Day blog, my dad never bought into the whole Father’s Day mania. He always felt it was a holiday dreamed up by card manufacturers to provide them with revenue during the slow time between Easter and graduations.

Regardless, like all good little girls, I dutifully crafted Father’s Day gifts until I was old enough to purchase them. At the very least, dad would get a nice card from me, and one year I wrote him a warm tribute detailing many of his wonderful attributes. I never failed to call him on Father’s Day, even though he always said it wasn’t necessary; he knew I treasured him on all days, not just on this particular one.

How I wish I could call my dad this Father’s Day. Instead, I’m still trying to process the fact that just four weeks ago, my beloved father died. He was only 69.

Anyone who’s lost a parent — a parent who was dearly loved — probably knows what I’m going through right now. Intermingled with grief and tears are feelings of incredulousness and unreality. How can it be that this man who was always there for me has been so cruelly taken away? How can I possibly live the rest of my life without him around as my rudder, my confidante, my staunchest supporter?

My father was not famous, so his death passed unheralded by most people, but for those he touched — and there were many — his loss was intensely felt. Three of his oldest and dearest friends, men he knew for 60+ years, made the sad trip to Florida for his memorial service, and each touched me deeply with his remembrances of my dad. One of them, a man who I was told didn’t cry at his parents’ funerals, actually broke down as he spoke of his great friend who was gone.

My mother, who shared a wonderful life with my dad for nearly 45 years, proved to be a tower of strength during the service, which was filled with not just tears, but laughter as well. Dad would certainly have wanted it that way. In one of the most heart-wrenching moments of my life, I had the privilege of standing before the mourners and telling them what my dad meant to me while sharing some wonderful memories. I ended by saying I was proud to be his daughter, and I always will be.

I’m the oldest of three girls, and while neither of my parents ever showed any overt favoritism, I developed a very special relationship with my dad. He used to tell me I reminded him of his mother, and as I noted to chuckles at his memorial, I was never certain whether that was meant as a compliment. Regardless, I know he savored each of my accomplishments, first in academia and later in the professional world, and he was fiercely proud that I (like my sisters) had grown up to be an independent, intelligent woman of the world.

It took my dad a long time to understand that I’m not unhappy being single. (Even on the afternoon of the day he died, he kidded me about finding a rich ballplayer to marry.) I was thrilled for him and my mom when one of my sisters did marry and provide them with grandchildren, but I used to tease him mercilessly when I arrived in Florida to find pictures of my niece and nephew taking precedence over yours truly. I shed copious tears when we looked through his wallet after he died and found my photo was placed so he saw it every time he opened it.

My dad was such a brave man. He was stricken with an adult-onset form of muscular dystrophy, and although we watched his 6-foot, 4-inch frame literally shrink before our eyes, I don’t think any of us ever really considered him to be seriously ill. He didn’t want us to. Although he finally gave in and got a wheelchair, he seldom used it, preferring to retain what little independence he could by using his walker. He never complained, and in fact he often commented that he had the perfect life: retired and living on the beach with the beautiful woman he loved, and secure in the fact that his three daughters were successful and happy.

My dad would have turned 70 this August, and we’d been planning a surprise birthday party for him. Now, we’ll be taking that time to scatter his ashes in the Gulf of Mexico as per his wishes. You see, my dad remains a wonderful, thoughtful man even though he’s not here anymore. He always told us he wouldn’t be buried, because he didn’t want us to feel we had to go to his grave to honor him; he knew we could honor him every day. And we do.

I know my dad realized how much I loved him, but I wish I had just one more chance to tell him so. To those of you who still have that opportunity, please take it, often, on Father’s Day and every day.

How Father’s Day Came to Be

The first Father’s Day was celebrated in 1910, in Spokane, Wash., after Sonora Smart Dodd petitioned the city to set aside a day to honor fathers. She wanted it to be on her father’s birthday, June 5, but it was pushed back two weeks to allow more time to arrange the festivities.

Father’s Day steadily gained popularity, but it took a long time for it to be legally recognized. Although President Calvin Coolidge said he supported it in 1924, it gained more traction in 1938 when the National Council for the Promotion of Father’s Day was founded, and President Lyndon Johnson issued the first presidential proclamation honoring fathers in 1966 — it wasn’t until 1972 that President Richard Nixon signed the public law that made it a permanent holiday, on the third Sunday of June.

Celebrating Then and Now

At the first Father’s Day celebration, young women handed out red roses to their fathers during a church service, and those in attendance pinned roses — red for the living and white in memory of the deceased — to honor their fathers. Since then, things have changed quite a bit, and popular Father’s Day gifts include automotive accessories, personal care items, sporting goods, home improvement and gardening tools, gift cards, clothing, electronic gadgets, and special outings like sporting events or dinner.

Whether you choose to send a card or gift to honor dad from afar or spend some time with him doing something he loves on his special day, don’t ignore the occasion. Be grateful your dad is around to make new memories to treasure forever.

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