Tomorrow is Father’s Day in the US, and so I wanted to write this, my first posting as a perma-blogger here at The Exponent, about that day. But this isn’t really going to be about fathers. It’s going to be about relationships to fathers. It seems to me that Mother’s Day gets a lot more attention regarding the need to be inclusive and sensitive to those whose experience with mothers, motherhood, etc. lie outside the common rhetoric, but Father’s Day. That’s a tough one for me.
It seems pointless, or at least trite, to state that there’s emphasis on traditional gender roles in church culture. This is perhaps as true for men as it is for women: men work, bring home bacon, lead the home in righteous activities, and serve in priestly callings.
I remember preparing for Father’s Day when I was in Primary. We always colored paper ties and learned songs about dads leading the family; the ties in particular were always a bit mysterious to me. See, my father doesn’t wear ties. In my whole life, I’ve seen it twice – once in a family photograph taken when I was about 12 months old, and once at my grandmother’s funeral. I bought it, tied it, and put it around his neck for him; the moment mass was over, he had full permission to take it right off.
For me, my father’s choice to not wear a tie is nothing more than a style choice, but to Church, it’s a different thing. My father holds the Melchizedek Priesthood, but he is not permitted to pass sacrament with the other Melchizedek Priesthood holders. Every time I’ve seen my father pass the sacrament, he has done so with members of the Aaronic Priesthood. One middle-aged man lumped in with a small army of 12 year-old boys. And this because he doesn’t wear ties. Because the wearing of a tie is apparently more important than showing respect to a completely worthy Melchizedek priesthood holder.
As it happens, ties are not the only way my father does not conform to stereotypes. My troubles with Father’s Day cards and gifts continued well past the time when colored paper stopped being an acceptable gift, but all the cards and gifts for this day still seem to be centered on a few approved man-themes:
My father is the father of four daughters. There was no playing catch in the yard, no fishing trips, and very little barbeque, but frankly, he wouldn’t have done those even if he had sons. My father is not athletic or outdoorsy. My father is a nerd. My father has always tinkered with computers and HAM radios and watched lots of science fiction, but there are no cards that honor those things.
My father was also not around much. He was away for work a lot. It didn’t matter what his job was – it always took him away from home, often for weeks at a time. As a teenager, I saw him 3 days per month, on average, during which time he caught up on laundry and sleep. When I was in Young Women’s my branch had the bright idea to throw a Daddy-Daughter dance. There were 6 young women in the branch. And 3 of us shared a father. The organizer suggested that we each choose substitute fathers out of the men in the ward to attend the dance with us, as if that isn’t a bizarre and creepy suggestion. And as if our father could be counted on to be in attendance at all, given his demanding work schedule.
We hear a lot in church about fathers priesthood holders, but mine wasn’t always there. His hands weren’t available the night I had a fever spike upwards of 104º; I had to wait for two male members of our rural branch to get up late at night to come give me a blessing. He wasn’t there to lead scripture study. Mom was. He wasn’t there for family meals or prayers. Mom was. He didn’t sit next to my mother most Sundays. It was just us girls.
The Proclamation states, “By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families.” Sure, it also says “disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation.” But it then states, “we warn that individuals who…fail to fulfill family responsibilities will one day stand accountable before God.”
Well, my father is neither disabled nor dead. He worked hard and as much as he could, and still could not always provide. At varying points in my upbringing, my family lived with extended family, other people’s families, government housing, and even a camper trailer. I have eaten a lot of Bishop’s Storehouse food and I’ve opened more than one Christmas gift addressed to my age and gender.
So what are the necessities of life my father is apparently responsible for providing? A roof over our heads? Most of the time. Food? Most of the time. We have struggled and fought and prayed, we have attended meetings with absolute dedication. We have read scriptures, and attended temple, and volunteered in service. And we have been homeless and hungry. Is it anything like justice that my father should be held accountable?
All I wanted was a Father’s Day card. But none of them have anything to do with my father or my relationship with him. He’s not a stereotype of Man, so printers don’t make cards for him. I hear and see discussion every Mother’s Day about inclusiveness for people who have lost their mothers, adoptive mothers, single women, infertile women, and more. But I don’t recall seeing similar discussions about how to be inclusive for different types of fathers and fatherhoods. So here’s my two cents: it is not always an easy, straightforward thing to honor one’s father on this day. It can be complicated. Some fathers are absent physically. Some are absent emotionally. Some are abusive. Sometimes, there isn’t a father to celebrate, or there isn’t one deserving of celebration. Some are single fathers, doing their best to be both mom and dad. Some men can’t be biological fathers. Some men brilliantly step into the role. So how do we make space on this day for non-traditional fathers and non-traditional families?