In June of every year, we honor fathers.
The importance of my father in my life has never been more vivid as it is now with the growing statistics of damage done by absentee fathers. My father was a proud family man, who believed that a father should provide for his children. He grew up in poverty, but managed to educate himself at a later age through savings accumulated by odd jobs on construction sites. He revered his hard working mother. She washed, mended and ironed shirts for generals and officers of British and German military who were “guests” at the Le Baron Hotel in Aleppo, Syria, while his father was absent on many occasions throughout his childhood. Yet, dad managed to turn himself into a man of the world vowing to be different than his father. He studied at nights under the flickering light of an oil lamp and became a contracting engineer. He believed in helping his heritage and employed Armenians with every opportunity presented. Dad never sweated the small stuff. Come to think of it, he didn’t sweat the big stuff either. His faith was firmly grounded in God. My father was a romantic and an idealist. He wrote poetry and short stories, exchanged letters with other Armenians of note and foreign political and religious leaders stirring responses re the Armenian genocide. He believed in education as key to self-improvement. His definition of a real man was “one who is so secure that he needn’t prove his masculinity by raising his voice or his fist.”
The first Father’s Day was celebrated in Spokane in 1910. The idea for Father’s Day is attributed to Sonora Dodd, who was raised by her father after her mother’s death during childbirth. While listening to a sermon at church on Mother’s Day, she thought about all her father had done for her and her siblings and decided fathers should have a day, too. Because Dodd’s father was born in June, she encouraged churches in her area, Spokane, Wash., to honor fathers that month. Over the years, the idea spread, and people lobbied Congress to establish the holiday. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson, who had signed a proclamation establishing Mother’s Day, approved the idea. In 1924, President Calvin Coolidge made it a national event to “establish more intimate relations between fathers and their children and to impress upon fathers the full measure of their obligations.” However, a holiday honoring fathers did not become official until 1966, when President Lyndon Johnson declared that the third Sunday in June would be Father’s Day. President Richard Nixon made this proclamation permanent in 1972.
As societal patriarchy is slowly diminishing, especially in countries where men and women are equally educated, as masculinity continues to undergo a constant process of redefinition, fatherhood has never mattered more than it does now. The old rituals or methods of proving yourself by making a living, owning property, wooing and romancing, being head of household, even combat itself is now gender-neutral. What remains indisputably masculine only is fatherhood (just as motherhood is indisputably feminine). Fatherhood should be the one truly binding connection among men. It’s too important, especially now. According to research from the Pew Research Center (2011), fathers who live with their children have become more intensely involved in their lives, spending more time with them and taking part in a greater variety of activities (tripled since 1965). However, the number of fathers living at home with their children has decreased significantly in the past half century, which means “fatherlessness” is a real crisis even as fatherhood gains significance. In 2008, 41% of births involved unmarried women compared with 28% in 1990. Fatherlessness as a condition has been linked with virtually every social ill you can name (the big exception being lesbian families): Young men who grow up without fathers are twice as likely to end up in jail, 63% of youths who commit suicide are from fatherless homes, and 71% of high school dropouts come from fatherless homes.
While I understand that the statistics presented do not reflect all ethnicities, and today’s fathers of the Armenian culture are perhaps overwhelmingly stronger in their personal transformation when they become fathers, we cannot ignore that we have many absentee fathers among Armenians at home. My hope is that we have the courage to talk about it and to work collectively to find the real man in each of our Armenian male patriots.
Happy Father’s Day.