By: Pastor Mary Beth Hartenstein
In just a few days there will be the celebration of Father’s Day, a day set aside to honor fathers and male parenting. This day was established in the early 1900’s to complement Mother’s Day that was already being celebrated. Yet celebrating Father’s Day had little success and faded from the celebration scene for a number of years. It was not until 1966, when President Lyndon B. Johnson issued the first presidential proclamation honoring fathers, designating the third Sunday in June as Father’s Day. In 1972, President Richard Nixon signed into law making that date a permanent national holiday.
Like with Mother’s Day, I find myself filled with mixed emotions as this day approaches. My own relationship with my father was strained. He was often demanding and verbally abusive to my mother, to me and to my siblings. But he would be a completely different person when out in public. I often thought of him as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde because of this behavior. When he was 54 years old, he was diagnosed with esophageal cancer and died thirteen months later; that was more than twenty years ago.
This year, as Father’s Day approaches, I know of several individuals who will be without their fathers for the first time. Some might be able to celebrate the long lives that their fathers’ enjoyed; others will mourn the deaths that came too soon to their beloved fathers. I know of an individual who will celebrate Father’s Day with the joy of knowing that there is a new baby that will be welcomed into the family later this year. But I also know a father and grandfather who continue to mourn the death of their infant girl as their arms still ache for the chance to hold her once again.
There are males who will approach this day with great sadness because of infertility issues. Fathers who will be separated from their families because of job related responsibilities or military duties. There will be those who are separated because of strained relationships and because of issues related to abuse, additions, or mental health challenges. There are males who are not fathers, by choice or circumstance that may feel left out of this day of celebration all together.
I can only imagine that this date, set aside to celebrate fatherhood, was done so with the best of intentions, but celebrating the male influences in our lives is much more complicated than the simplicity of setting aside one day. In my own life, I am grateful for the male role models that have guided me, taught me, challenged me, nurtured me and loved me. Some have been teachers in a variety of settings from high school to seminary to my doctoral program. Some have been colleagues in all of my various job settings. Some have been members or friends of churches that I have served. Others have been dear personal friends. There is, of course, my own spouse. All of these individuals helped me navigate life in all of its joy and difficulty and this is what I will celebrate this Sunday as I remember and honor them on a day set aside to do just that. I hope that you will find a way to honor those male roles models that have been a part of your life as well.