Today is Father’s Day, a day we never celebrated in our family because my parents both thought it was a commercial construct and not a legitimate holiday. I have to thank them yet again for raising me without creating these unnecessary situations that so many people find filled with angst, with anger, and with a laundry list of unhappy memories.
I loved my father, and I knew my father loved me. He was openly affectionate, although not a big hugger and kisser. On the spectrum of standard American paternal behavior in the 1950s and 1960s, he was considerably more demonstrative than most. He also was a fairly typical heavy European father, and I had plenty of school friends with similar fathers. They were strict, they expected obedience, and they weren’t afraid to enforce it. They wanted us girls to do well in school and learn our manners and above all, be modest, chaste maidens that a likely young man would find suitable for marriage. That’s an old-fashioned standard, but that’s how those fathers, mine included, thought.
Having this kind of father could be frustrating. Daddy believed that girls should have long hair. My hair as a girl was very thick, and quite curly. In those pre-air conditioning times, my hair was a nuisance on hot days when we kids were playing outdoors (which was always, because our mothers threw us outside to play so we wouldn’t mess up their clean houses). My father would not allow me to get my hair cut in a short cut. He only allowed his cousin, among other things a trained barber, to hack off some of the ends once in a while. By third grade, I’d had enough of this, and when my elementary school made some kind of connection with a certain hairdresser, I begged my mother to take me to him and let him cut my hair. We did it. My father was so enraged that he sent me away from the dinner table in the dining room, and I was forced to eat in the cold, uninviting den, far from the family. He also threatened not to let me go to a birthday party that evening–a big deal to a nine-year-old. Rather an extreme reaction, considering the shocking new haircut was still quite conservative. Boy, was it comfortable. My father eventually adjusted.
But Daddy did not back down when it came to wearing makeup. He wouldn’t let me. Why not? Because he’d actually visited Prince Matchabelli’s cosmetics laboratory many years before. And what my father saw was that lipstick contained bleach. He said if I used lipstick it would take away the natural color of my lips. I thought this was Daddy hooey. I did not want to hear it. But I had to obey his dictum. About forty years later, cosmetics companies did finally reveal the chemicals in their products. And lo and behold, lipsticks contained bleach. Daddy was right. I’ve never worn lipstick, nor particularly missed it after those first few rebellious yearnings to be like the other girls. His logic made too much sense to me, so I didn’t even sneak it on while out and about, or while away from home at college. It was not my original choice to go the natural look route, but the times favored it, too.
So, he won some and I won some, and that’s how it went with numerous battles during my childhood. It was humbling as a young adult to discover over and over that he had been right about this or that. But it was too late to tell him, because he died when I was twenty-one and still in college.
I hope my father had the same wisdom I have gained since then, to realize that within our families we often do our best and give our best, but are not honored for doing so at the time. We make decisions our children rebel against. We hand out solid advice that our children laugh at, as we laughed at our parents’ well-meaning efforts. In negotiating adult life, I have experienced many instances of realizing that parents forgive us anyway, and in advance. Which is yet another reason to be thankful that my father did not demand a test of love each year in June on Father’s Day. Our family life was not all roses, and I don’t know how many of those Father’s Days would have been happy events. I’m guessing none. But I still love you, Daddy, and I know you loved me, and that’s what counts.