No, I had never heard of Mrs. Sonora Smart Dodd, who everywhere on the internet (so it must be true? – it often is, but there are plenty of times when it’s not) is credited, in 1910, in Spokane, Washington, with the invention of Father’s Day. Quite how fast it spread across the Atlantic I do not know, but it has only been an official day since LBJ, of all people, declared it as such in 1966. The British are very deferential to Americans, generally speaking, often while denying that they are, but I suspect it would have been the 1980s before it really caught on over here.
Certainly, Mrs. Dodd (one of six children brought up by a widowed father) had made no impression in my childhood on the calendar. My father had no day set aside, and probably would have grumbled if there had been one. The only member of the family to be venerated was the Mother, and, in the 1950s, this was almost the only day when she was much celebrated. Mothers were not especially well-treated in the 1950s.
It ought to be the day when I write about my father, I suppose, but the constant groan of the dehumidifier is getting on my nerves, so I will be mardy and write about my mother instead. She would have been 86 a couple of days ago, had she, as she would have put it, been ‘spared’. It’s now 21 months since she died, and the absence is constant. She turns up in all kinds of places – in fact, she left little notes in her papers, which she spent six months sorting out before she died. ‘Hope this helps!’ she’d scribbled on a piece of paper surrounding some utility bills.
I often wonder why she didn’t (as I’d expected she would) destroy her many love letters from when she was between the ages of 17 and 27, including those she received from what seem to have been members of all the armed forces, including my father’s cousin – she hadn’t met my father at the time – in the navy. Their supply of pet names was inexhaustible (excruciatingly, my father seems to have called her ‘Teddy’), but she was known as Lulu to most of her close family after a niece found it understandably hard to pronounce the word ‘Muriel’.
She never found her role until my father died, when, after a period of complete and abject despair, and one shot, a bit half-hearted, at suicide (pills), and some self-denial about drinking heavily, she suddenly blossomed as an independent woman. It was the first time in her life she had been able to be herself, I suspect. She was seven years younger than her brother, nine years younger than her sister; during the war she was a surrogate mother to her sister’s evacuated daughter; after this, she nursed her mother in 1950 – she died before I was born – and after that looked after her widowed father, before marrying my father. So she was always defined by someone else until about 1990. In her seventies, she reinvented herself, perhaps not surprisingly as someone who was happy in her own company. She could be (like me, actually) a bit cantankerous, but it was hard, as someone said to me, and not out of charity, to find anyone who had a bad word for her.
Anyway. Since I can’t remember any Father’s Days (although of course I am one, a father not a day, I mean), my memory for today will have to be a Mother’s Day – or Mothering Sunday, as you don’t often hear it called. This was about the only day I ever went to the local church (although the educational establishments I went to required daily attendance) with my mum. At the age of about five, I remember every child in the church being required to stand on a pew and hold their hands out wide to say how much they loved their mother. Cue lots of kids attempting to break their arms by getting them parallel behind their back. I don’t ever recall going to church there after that, until the day of her funeral, and looking down at the assembled people, and realising it, and admitting it.
Still, one last cheer for my father, too. He wouldn’t have wanted any further fuss. But maybe there should be a son’s day.