Quiet Desperation

Father's Day gives formality to banality

Column by Craig Marshall Smith

Father's Day is Sunday, June 15. Or is it? I guess if you need to have someone tell you when to honor your father, then Father's Day is Sunday, June 15, from midnight to midnight.

My father and I had an agreement: No gifts. But I always called. Of course, I called him every weekend for the last 20 years of his life, so Father's Day wasn't any different.

When I was a kid, I fell in line and gave him Old Spice after-shave in those beautiful little off-white bottles. That ended when I turned 13, and we both decided to discontinue Father's Day gift-giving.

What are you going to give someone who has given you everything?

At least we have an artist to thank for Father's Day. Her name was Sonora Dodd, and she came up with the idea at the YMCA in Spokane, Wash., in 1910. I'm not sure what she was doing in a YMCA. I know you can get yourself clean there, and have a good meal there.

Dodd simply wanted to follow the success of Mother's Day with a day for another family member. She ruled out Uncle's Day and Stepsister's Day.

The idea got off to a slow start, with low acceptance, and Dodd went off to the Art Institute in Chicago. She returned to Spokane after graduating and renewed her efforts to raise awareness about her project. It wasn't until 1966 that it became enacted, by Lyndon Baines Johnson, in a proclamation celebrating fathers. The third Sunday in June was chosen.

Dodd lived long enough to see it happen. She died in 1978.

My own father was a beauty. I have written about him before. We exchanged unanticipated gifts all of the time.

We had a gift-giving family. But gift-giving was limited or nonexistent on designated holidays, including Christmas.

Mom and Dad would check out of a hotel, and the desk clerk would say, "It's been paid for, by your son," or "It's been paid for, by your daughter."

A waiter would come to their table and say, "It's been paid for, by your son."

Dad went to Home Depot to pay for their new vertical blinds, and was told, "It's been paid for by your son and your daughter."

I could never have done that in the Old Spice days. It took months to save up enough money to buy a bottle.

One time I boarded an airplane in Johnson City, Tenn., and the flight attendant said, "Your father upgraded you to first class."

When it comes to fathers, I was one of the lucky ones. Unfortunately, not every father is like mine. Some fathers abandon, neglect, abuse or molest.

Is there anything worse than having an abusive parent?

Father's Day has never been as successful as Mother's Day, as a day of commerce. Restaurants are packed on Mother's Day. Insipid greeting cards fly off the shelves. Children promise to dust, or to bring mom breakfast in bed.

My father had his hands full - with me. If you have been a reader, you know by now that things bother me. Lots of things. Lots of things started to bother me at an early age. My father never tried to change my behavior. What kind of a miracle is that?

He never told me to conform or to believe what he believed. Some fathers think they know exactly what is best.

Robert Young didn't even know what was best. The "Father Knows Best" actor suffered from depression and alcoholism, and he attempted suicide in 1991.

Anyway, happy Father's Day, June 15, 16, 17 and 18.

Craig Marshall Smith is an artist, educator and Highlands Ranch resident. He can be reached at craigmarshallsmith@comcast.net.