Debate Magazine

Being Fatherless on Father's Day, and Other Musings

Posted on the 15 June 2014 by Starofdavida

Being Fatherless on Father's Day, and Other Musings

See? Power tools.

In the past two weeks, I’ve been inundated with television commercials advertising golf clubs, power tools, red meat, and other articles that are supposed to define American masculinity. Images in clothing catalogs and magazine ads impart the message that real fathers are men who are married to women, can fix cars, and frequently make barbecues in their spacious backyards. Internet popups tell me that I should remember to buy those tickets to the game on Sunday, as if I could forget when Father’s Day is.
I know that the above paragraph reads as incredibly bitter, particularly in light of the fact that my dad died a year and a half ago. But in all honesty, I really don’t resent the existence of this holiday. I understand that most people have fathers, and just because mine isn’t here anymore doesn’t mean that other people should be kept from celebrating the contributions that their fathers made to their lives. I mean, Father’s Day (and Mother’s Day, while we’re on the subject) always struck me as a little inane, even when my father was living. Children should be celebrating their parents every day of the week, not just on one arbitrarily chosen day in the spring. But I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with the idea of Father’s or Mother’s Day.
It’s just that things tend to get tricky when you have people who don’t have a parent, or have one who is absent in mind or body. My elementary school had an annual mother-daughter event around Mother’s Day, and I always felt bad for one girl on my bus whose mother had passed away and another girl in my grade whose mother had walked out on the family. I’m sure that Mother’s Day was tough enough for them in the first place, and mother-daughter events like that could have only rubbed salt into the wound. At this point, I’m a big girl, and I can get over not having a father on Father’s Day; had my dad died when I was younger, I’m not sure if it would have been as easy.
My dislike of Father’s and Mother’s Day goes beyond feeling bad for parentless children such as myself, though. It really bothers me how the media takes these days as an opportunity to pigeonhole the sexes and idealize very specific, gendered behaviors. Men are masculinized, women are feminized, and we all end up losing out because of the stereotypes that are reinforced in people’s minds. I know very few people who could accurately be characterized by the traditional images of men and women that the media pushes around Father’s and Mother’s Day. Case in point: my mother, a carpenter’s daughter who does most of her own repairs and keeps a tool box next to her shoeboxes, could figure out how to use a power tool better than my father would have. Why didn’t I see any commercials for Home Depot gift cards around Mother’s Day? She would use it better than he ever could have.
Father’s Day advertising also becomes problematic in its portrayal of the family as a unit with two straight parents of different sexes living in the same home. Marginalizing families that are structured in different ways, these ads make single parents, same-sex parents, and all sorts of other types of families look like they don’t belong. This is 21stcentury America. We all belong, no matter how far we deviate from the traditional family structure.
Is it kind of annoying to have a day celebrating fathers when you don’t have one? Yeah. Not gonna lie. Seeing images of the family I once had plastered all over television, magazines, and even the sides of buses can hurt, and I’m not going to sugarcoat that. But Father’s Day also bothers me because of the sexist overtones that advertisers capitalize on. No, I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with the existence of Father’s Day, but the holiday will have to have a big makeover before I’ll start to grudgingly like it.   

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