Here comes Father’s Day, or, as my dad liked to call it: Jack Ass Day. As you might surmise, he wasn’t very sentimental about it, and he thought it a rather silly day. Perhaps this was because Father’s Day only came into its own during my father’s lifetime: the holiday itself has its roots in Mother’s Day traditions. Anna Jarvis had successfully established Mother’s Day in the first decade of the 1900s, although she came to hate the eventual commercialization of the day she created. It was 1910 when Sonora Smart Dodd, who, after hearing a sermon about Anna Jarvis and her mission to establish a day honoring mothers, sought to do the same for fathers. The first Father’s Day celebration took place in Spokane, Washington that June, on the third Sunday, just as we celebrate it now.
Where Jarvis chose to battle the forces of commercialization for the holiday she championed, Dodd did not, and instead welcomed the commercialization of Father’s Day as a way to help establish the holiday, which was not gaining much traction on its own. The backing of trade groups worked, too, but it took time. The presidential proclamation designating the third Sunday of June as Father’s Day did not occur until Lyndon Johnson did it the honor in 1966, and it was Richard Nixon who made Father’s Day a permanent national holiday in 1972.
By Father’s Day 1972 I was already 7 years old and I’m sure by then it was becoming increasingly apparent that I had not inherited my dad’s natural prowess with hand tools and machinery. It was last year’s chapter for Father’s Day where I told you about my dad’s patience (or lack of it) while we attempted to do things together like change the oil on my truck (Dad: “Turn it to the left!” Me: “Which left?” Dad: “LEFT!” Me: “But I’m upside down and on my back. Is it the same left for you as it is for me?” Dad: “Darrrh!”)
But there was one task we had down pat together, over the years: Mowing the lawn. Dad loved his manicured lawn, and these are some of my favorite memories of him: mowing, clipping, sweeping. He had a specific manner of sweeping: first with a corn broom along the freshly cut edges of the grass along the sidewalk, and then with a push broom down the center. He’d gather up all the clippings in a bushel basket, the kind you find apples in at the farmstand, with the wide strips of wood painted red and green. When I was a kid, I’d be the one with the dustpan, collecting all the grass clippings that Dad swept into the pan.
Over the years I got just slightly better with tools and machinery; good enough that I could handle some of the lawn responsibilities. But Dad kept cutting the lawn, on a rider mower eventually, and even just a few months ago he was still mowing his own lawn, while I took care of the edger and the weedwacker and still, the broom. He had a blower but it didn’t always work and me, I’m more of a broom guy, anyway.
Come June, when summer here in Florida gains its foothold, there are two things you can typically count on: the Royal Poinciana trees blooming red and orange, and the rainy season beginning in earnest. All summer long, between the constant heat and the daily thunderstorms, the grass would grow and grow and grow. We would have to mow the lawn weekly, Dad and I, usually on Saturdays. He would wait impatiently for me to wake up, and then we’d get out there. Very often, the thunderstorms would build to the west as we worked. We would hurry to finish, get all the machinery tucked away as the wind picked up, and then, task completed, we would sit in the garage, garage door open, as the thunder pealed and the lightning crackled and the rain began to fall. It usually came in hard and sometimes lasted just a bit and other days kept on for the rest of the afternoon. But we would sit there, Dad and I, while the wind blew around us rain cooled air. It was the unspoken satisfaction of a job well done.
I had forgotten all about that until yesterday, when my nephew John and I met up at the house to cut the lawn. It was long, three weeks worth of summer growth. John rode the mower, while I did the rest. I used the blower instead of the broom; the rain was fast approaching. But we finished, and though we didn’t sit, we stood there in the garage, leaning on the car, garage door open, wind blowing. Instead of Dad and me it was me and John. It took me right back to those rain cooled afternoons with Dad, and it was nice, kind of like another visit from Dad. He didn’t care much for Father’s Day, my dad… but I know he loved those afternoons. And to have one again yesterday, well… that was just what my nephew and I needed. Happy Father’s Day then to all our dads: those given, those chosen, those here in front of us, and those present in rain cooled air or whatever form they’ve chosen to come and bestow their love upon us.
Image: Early 1970s, I’d guess, based on the cars and the hair. There’s Dad with his corn broom, but with a galvanized trash bin instead of the bushel basket. That’s at our home on Victor Street in Valley Stream, New York.