So I’ll admit this up front: I’ve never been a big fan of Mother’s Day or Father’s Day. In my Jewish home growing up, they were really just two days to feel a little more guilty than we did the rest of the year. And after we lost my mother to breast cancer in ’04, Mother’s Day was just another day to get through.
Then I became a mother, a gift for which I am ever grateful. But let me quickly dispel the notion that for two-mom families, Mother’s Day is double the fun. It’s not—because unless your kids are old enough to wait on you, there’s nobody to do the grunt work. You either have to split the day in half or take turns celebrating odd and even years, which doesn’t work because nobody can ever remember who got last year. Or you can just spend the day feigning generosity and secretly feeling resentful that nobody is serving you breakfast in bed. Any which way you slice it, it’s not even half the fun Hallmark said it would be.
And then there’s Father’s Day. Our girls are still pretty young—six and three—so we haven’t had much of an issue with it, but in the back of my mind, the fear has lurked: Will they have the wherewithal to respond to any insensitive comments? Will they feel like they’re missing out, in the way that I always wanted a pony?
Adding to my concerns is the fact that ours is one of very few LGBT families at Golda Och Academy, the Jewish day school formerly known as Solomon Schechter, where our six-year-old, Maya, is finishing up kindergarten. We knew that going in, but since the school was welcoming and the dual curriculum means a lot to us, we decided to go ahead with it. Our strategy was to be hyper-vigilant and proactive about educating parents and teachers about our family, and correct stereotypes when necessary. All year, I’ve laid in figurative wait, like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Gay-Mom, ready to rescue our daughter from the clutches of heterosexist tyranny. But no such incidents have been reported or otherwise noted. So far, Maya has felt just like everybody else, only with two moms instead of one. Plus, she knows how to say, “it’s foggy out” in Hebrew.
But I'll admit I’ve felt a bit of extra trepidation leading up to Father’s Day. What if poor Maya had to spend all day reading quietly in the corner while the rest of the kids made sequin-covered cards and handcrafted paperweights for their dads? Instead, I got a surprising phone call from my daughter’s Hebrew teacher who wanted to discuss the Father’s Day art project the students were scheduled to make this week. She was concerned that Maya might feel left out and offered to lobby that the project be renamed “Yom Hamishpacha,” or Family Day, as it is celebrated in Israel. I thanked her for her concern and for being so solicitous and said that my daughter had two living grandfathers and either one would be delighted to receive the gift. In the end, just like on Mother’s Day, Maya had double the work. It’s a lucky thing that girl loves a glue stick.
Some will undoubtedly consider this teacher’s offer to be overly P.C. Why deprive other children of the opportunity to celebrate their fathers simply because she doesn’t have one? I personally know lots of wonderful, loving dads who more than deserve a day of praise for all they do and I certainly plan to call my own dear father on Sunday morning to tell him I love him and wish him a good round of golf.
On the other hand, do we really need a designated day to express gratitude to our parents? Isn’t it just a day of penance we offer in exchange for a year of neglect, kind of like going to confession? And if the day causes more pain to those who can’t celebrate it than joy to those who can, should it even exist? Because let’s face it, folks—not every Mother’s Day or Father’s Day is happy. And I don’t mean for my children, who are lucky enough to have two living, loving parents. I mean for those who have lost a parent, like my late brother’s four young children after his brief but brave battle with cancer a decade ago. Or all the children who have suffered abuse or neglect at the hands of a parent or whose parents disowned them after they came out as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered, or for any other reason. I’m thinking of those parents who have lived through the worst tragedy of all—the loss of a child—and for whom this day will never, ever be the same.
And then there is the rampant commercialization that seems to squash the intended depth and meaning from every holiday that has ever made it onto the calendar. In little known fact, the mother of Mother’s Day, Anna Jarvis, disavowed her own creation for this very reason. After her own mother died in 1905, Jarvis crusaded tirelessly to have Mother’s Day nationally recognized as a solemn day of appreciation for mothers, living or not. In 1914, she got her wish when President Woodrow Wilson signed a congressional resolution designating the second Sunday in May as Mother's Day. But by 1923, seeing the giddy, commercial monster it had become, she renounced the holiday, and spent the rest of her life and her family’s fortune fighting to dismantle it. She lamented that she’d “wanted it to be a day of sentiment, not a day of profit,” and called printed greeting cards “a poor excuse for the letter you are too lazy to write.” But, of course, the nascent gift and greeting card industry marched enthusiastically past her, strengthening as it went. Once her trademark was coopted, she never stood a chance.
So what, then? Replace Mother’s Day and Father’s Day with National Caregiver Day? Ban these days outright? Lobby for the separation of parenthood and state so that no schoolchildren are ever again forced to cut out construction-paper hearts for Grandma Sylvia when secretly they despise her?
Perhaps a bit extreme. Instead, I propose we widen the scope of these days. By all means, let’s take our dads and husbands to brunch and buy them Home Depot appliances and fancy tie clips. (Or, for those gay dads out there, Le Creuset and theater tickets. And possibly fancy tie clips.) Let’s tell them we love them and appreciate them, not just on the third Sunday in June, but every day.
And then let’s also make room in the tent for those whose Father’s Day might be marked by sadness, grief or regret. Let’s reach out to them with a compassionate word and let them know we see them, too. I teared up after my conversation with Maya’s teacher, not because she’d offered to reinvent the holiday, but because I knew my child’s unique experience was being recognized. That may well be the gift with the lowest price tag and the farthest reach.
So for all those celebrating, a very happy Father’s Day to you! And for those who are just trying to get through it, remember tomorrow is another day. And those cordless weed-wackers will probably still be on sale at Home Depot.