Sunday, June 18, 2017

American Father's Day

Today is Father's Day in the United States for 2017.

 Almost like a scene out of the Andy Griffith Show, father and son fishing, Jackson County West Virginia.

It's set on the Third Sunday of June, meaning you father's don't get the day off.

I'd have guessed this was some sort of uniquely American holiday, but it isn't.  The US actually came to it late in comparison to Catholic Europe and Latin America, where it was established on conjunction with the Feast of St. Joseph, which is celebrated on March 19.  The separated Coptic Church, interestingly, also makes this connection but celebrates the feast day on July 20. 

 St. Joseph depicted with Jesus as a young boy.  This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 100 years or less.

The connection comes due to the obvious role of St. Joseph.  In this connection its also interesting to note that the focus on St. Joseph has increased in recent years in association with his role as the patron saint of workers.  Indeed, he's sometimes called St. Joseph the Worker.

Another depiction of St. Joseph, who made his living as a carpenter and passed that trade on to Jesus.  This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 100 years or less.

Those two roles, it occurs to me, are probably more connected than it might at first seem. . . . 

Father's Day as an American holiday was first proposed in the early 20th Century and Woodrow Wilson wanted to make it such. Wilson seems to have experienced his first early troubles with Congress, which would become enormous later on, with holidays as Congress would have none of it.  Note that we just passed Flag Day which didn't become official until after World War One, but which was subject to a Presidential proclamation in 1916.   In regards to Father's Day, Congress feared it would become commercial so they wouldn't go for it. Finally President Johnson made it subject to a proclamation in 1966 and it became an official holiday in 1972.

Based on the advertising found this time of year, Congress may have had a reason to worry about the day's commercialization. . . . 

 It's been a really long time since you could get a plate of anything for .30.

On this day I always see, now that we have so much cyber stuff going on all the time, posted dedications by some to their fathers.  And that's great.  What strikes me, however, is the interesting connection between the example of St. Joseph and the day, and in a way that occurred to me about this day before but not quite in the same context.  If we look at St. Joseph's veneration's, that of father and of a worker, what we're left with is the example of a really dedicated individual who carried his family through some really horrible times, to say the least, and who passed his trade on to his son through direct example.  

We don't know a lot, indeed, about St. Joseph.  We know that he was older than Mary but much is debated beyond that.  Quite a bit of early church attention suggests that he may have been a widower at the time that he became betrothed to Mary and indeed that explains a lot about their relationship that seems to completely baffle modern Americans in particular, given that they think relationships between men and women as portrayed by Friends or The Big Bang Theory are normal, rather than pathologically abnormal in the real and natural sense.  What that means is that a lot of St. Joseph's life was about duty and example.  Indeed, his life, to the extent we know about it, was pretty much about dedication.  He may very well have suffered the tragedy of the loss of his first wife, and may have had children from that union (again, this is maintained by quite a few students of the Gospels and it seems to be a fairly valid argument).  His betrothal to Mary seems likely to have been under circumstances in which he was marrying a young woman (Mary was likely quite young, perhaps about sixteen) who was perhaps a consecrated virgin (again, something argued by some students of the Bible and which seems to be a pretty valid argument) which meant that the marriage was going to be a Josephite Marriage from the onset.  He wasn't making his life easier in any sense by the marriage and right from the very onset it took a turn that made it marketedly worse for him on a real physical level.  And yet, he just kept on keeping on.

Immigrant farm laborer with his sons, the older two of which were already working with their father at the time this photo was taken in the late Great Depression.  Note the depiction in the background which sort of ties into this dicussion.

Which is part of my point.

A lot of fathers today just don't stick around.

Indeed we've grown accustomed to a situation in which they're not even expected to quite often, even by the women they get pregnant.  This has made, to a degree, us accustomed to the concept that fatherhood is somehow optional.  It isn't.  It is, rather, an obligation, and being there is a big part of that obligation.  And, by being there I mean in the sense that St. Joseph was.  

Now most of us won't endure trials such as his.  Most of us won't have to flea for Egypt.  But then most of us wouldn't pass that test and men who just ignore the situation in general have already flunked it.  Women who allow them to are flunking it as well.

But being there means more than being physically present.  It also means being some sort of example.  We all fall short on that, particularly in comparison to a Saint, but a lot of us fall very far short of it. Being an example only in the acquisition of wealth doesn't mean very much at all.  Conveying a value to things that are done means a great deal more, but that's not always easy in a society which measures everything simply by monetary gain.  Very few young men today grow up in a situation in which they see their father's work, and a lot of that work has a value that's somewhat mysterious at best.

Idaho father and son, late l930s, in a cleared field.  Agricultural families today remain really rare examples of families in which children actually see what their parents do and what the value of it is.

And of course there's a lot more of value to life than work, although we seem to have forgotten much of that.

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