Berger’s Burg: American dads overcome false TV representation – QNS.com

Berger’s Burg: American dads overcome false TV representation

The most important thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother. — T. Hesburgh

You all know from reading my last month’s Mother’s Day…

By Alex Berger

I figured out why they call our language the mother tongue. Fathers never get a chance to use it!

The most important thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother. — T. Hesburgh

You all know from reading my last month’s Mother’s Day column that Anna Jarvis of West Virginia spread the idea for Mother’s Day. In 1914, following her lead, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day. But do you know how Father’s Day began?

After the designation of Mother’s Day, a few astute children finally began noticing the strange man shaving in their bathroom. “Who is he?” they anxiously asked their mothers.

“Just your dear old Dad,” was the reply. And gradually it was realized that perhaps there should be an annual day for this other stranger who shares their household.

For his day, the family conjured up an appropriate gift for him, a Betty Boop tie or a reasonable facsimile, and the ideal Father’s Day gift to present to all the other, neglected strangers on Father’s Day was born. All well and good for this upgrade of a father’s image, but do you know that in days of yore, fathers were actually revered and fondly remembered, sort of?

Way back when, in ancient Roman days, a holiday called “Roman Parentalia” was observed. It ran for 10 days in February and it was not to honor living fathers but deceased ones. It seems the Romans also treated their living male progenitors as “neglected strangers.”

But they tolerated their still warm-bodied fathers because they served useful purposes, such as paying the bills, lending Junior the family chariot and teaching young sons about the myrrh and the bees. This holiday for deceased fathers was a joyous time for remembrance and commemoration. In Rome, it was far better to be a departed father than a live one.

Eons later in this country, during the 17th and 18th centuries, a father’s role changed. Surprisingly, fathers took on the primary responsibility for child care beyond the early nursing period. Fathers not only directed their children’s education and religious worship but often played with them. Fathers also decided what their children would eat and rocked them to sleep when they awakened at night. Imagine that!

Thomas Jefferson, recalling his earliest childhood memories, wrote that although he was physically cared for by slaves, he was nurtured by his father. Harriet Beecher Stowe recalls a similar upbringing with her father. And Aaron Burr took great pride in supervising the education of his daughter and also instructed her in social etiquette and exercise. Fathers were very important family members in those days.

Historically, the development of modern Father’s Day, honoring fathers (living and dead), came into being during the same period that gave rise to Mother’s Day; however, its acceptance was a bit slower in coming.

Several backers for a national Father’s Day, without knowledge of each other, were instrumental in bringing about the beginning of the holiday. Two were Charles Clayton and Robert Webb of West Virginia, who got together and held the first ceremony honoring fathers on July 5, 1908.

Only recently was Father’s Day established permanently. In 1972 President Richard Nixon signed the congressional resolution that designated the third Sunday in June as the national holiday of Father’s Day.

Sadly, however, dads in today’s American culture generally tend to be viewed as absurd figures. Consider the condescending role given to fathers in the comics and on television. Dagwood and Fred Flintstone, as well as the father in “Everyone Loves Raymond” are portrayed as not-too-bright men-children. Not very good models for children to emulate. But still, modern fathers manage to overcome this false representation.

The actress Angelica Huston described her late father, film director John Huston, as “bigger and better than anyone else.” Burt Reynolds remembers that whenever his father entered his room as a boy, it felt as if all the lights and air went out of it.

And John L. Sullivan, the legendary heavyweight champion, enjoyed entering the saloons in every town he visited and shouting, “I can lick any bum in the house.” One day, a small, elderly gentleman took him up on his challenge. He walked up to the great John L. and punched him squarely in the face. Sullivan turned and walked out. It was his father.

Yes, it doesn’t matter if a father is highly educated, holds an important job or is rich. To his children, he is still their dad.

What do most fathers want for Father’s Day? The best gift for many of them, says Dr. Gerald Mann, is represented by the acronym FACE: forgiveness, appreciation, cherishing and encouragement. For others it may be just the two small words uttered by their children when greeting them — “Hi, Dad!” However, for me, an anonymous poet said it best:

“I don’t want a pipe and I don’t want a watch. I don’t want cigars or a bottle of Scotch.

“I don’t want a thing your money can buy, like a shirt or a hat, or a four-in-hand tie.

“If you really would make this old heart of mine glad, I just want to know you’re still fond of your Dad. You women folk say, and believe it I can, ‘It’s so terribly hard to buy things for a man!’

“And from all that I’ve heard I am sure it must be. Well, I don’t want you spending your money on me.

“The joy that I crave in a store can’t be had. I just want to know you’re still fond of your Dad.

“Get on with your shopping; give others the stuff! For me just a hug and a kiss are enough!

“Just come in at Christmas with love in your eye, and tell me you think I’m a pretty swell guy.

“With that for my gift I can never be sad. I just want to know you’re still fond of your Dad.”

Fathers everywhere, take note. Be aware that your children think you are the most important and brilliant man in the whole world (and that you sing well, also). So, look the part. Stand tall; be proud. I hope you enjoyed Father’s Day. You earned it.

Reach columnist Alex Berger at timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 140.

More from Around New York