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?
I admit, very sheepishly, that I haven’t much considered the pitfalls of traditional father/masculine roles for men who don’t fit that mold, nor had I connected the strong, condemnatory language in the Family Proc about it. Geez. I’m so glad that you’ve written this, because I think you’re contributing to a great way to make space for non-traditional fathers – you’re telling their stories. Hugs to you, Kalliope, on this Father’s Day.
Thank you, Liz!
This is brilliant Kalliope!
“it is not always an easy, straightforward thing to honor one’s father on this day.”– Amen and amen. I love my now deceased father, for his imperfections as well as his positive features. I recall one father’s day– when I was a Beehive, I was assigned to speak in church. My father at the time was “less active”– in part because he worked nights in a jazz band, and in part because church bored him. My modern day self now believes that the reason they asked me to speak was to entice him to come to church on that day. He didn’t. And- I wasn’t bothered. I was asked to speak and I did. That was separate for me than my relationship with my father. I think this was imperative in my development as a person: family didn’t mean perfect church attendance. Family means quality time in– and out, of church.
The beauty of my father is that he wasn’t traditional. And that is a good thing.
Thank you for the thought-provoking post.
And thank you, Spunky! 🙂
Thanks for your post Kalliope, you raise many important points. You’re right that the difficulties of Father’s Day aren’t acknowledged like they are for Mother’s Day. These holidays can be so fraught. I’ve long thought prescribed gender roles are costly to both women and men, in terms of support for developing talents and interests that don’t align with stereotypes.
Emily – that is also a belief I have long-held – gender roles are costly for everyone. I feel like I hear about it more with girls & women, and I really don’t aim to turn this into a “men, too!” sort of thing. At all. But more like stereotypes inhibit talent and interest development for all *people*, regardless of their gender or gender identity.
Your sisters directed me to this post and it was very humbling. (Is that even a word? (punctuation)). You’re right though, I don’t fit the common stereotype of father. I remember you telling me after meeting the parents of some of your friends that you were glad I was the way I am. My goal with you and your sisters was to make your life better than mine. I would like to think I was successful. You all went to college and have degrees. You are all doing very well now. Some of you struggled more than others and that was very difficult for me as I was not in a position to help. Now you all are happy with your situations and that makes me happy. I am very proud of all of you. Could I have done better? Probably. Would I have done some things differently? Probably. I wish that I could have provided for my family without having to be gone all the time. I wish that I could have been there in good times and bad. I wish that I had the financial resources to make us all debt free. I wish that I was more open with my emotions. Your mother says that they are in there and occasionally they spill out and run down my face. Like when reading this post. Just know that I love you and your sisters more than words can express.
PS – I’m not a nerd
PPS – OK, maybe just a little
PPPS – Remember, if wishes were horses we would all be cleaning stables.
I love you, Pappi. I know how hard you worked, and I’m grateful for your dedication to your family. I don’t think you should be held accountable for unfavorable circumstances and hardships. You worked hard every day for us, and that is your legacy. Thank you for never giving up.
I’m sorry, the random paragraph about your dad passing the sacrament makes zero sense. Unless your branch practiced very strange (and frankly wrong) traditions, then that story doesn’t add up at all. Members of both the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthood can pass the sacrament together. There is no case where they would say “only Melchizedek pass” or “only Aaronic pass”. It’s likely that you aren’t remembering that story correctly. Also, I’m curious if there’s something deeper than style, as to why he would refuse to wear a tie. You implied that there was some form of slight prejudice from the branch towards him bc he wouldn’t wear a tie but according to your own account, that was purely a style choice and nothing more. If that’s true, then that’s super weird that he would put himself in that situation. Your dad sounds like a good guy and a hard worker but the random account of him passing the sacrament and him refusing to wear a tie make no sense