I have, with some sense of pathetic entitlement, long considered Father’s Day the Great Afterthought in the American holiday calendar. The week before Mother’s Day, I’m down on my knees, begging my sons to do something nice for their mother; I will be held accountable for all their failings.
Father’s Day is different.
It seems Scotts Lawn Products is the only group of people really excited that there is a special day just for me.
Perhaps, towards the end of the day, I will be handed a folded-over piece of white paper – a hastily scribbled note with a no.4 accounting pencil.
Or – something maybe you’ve received – a piece of clay, bearing the imprint of a body part of one of my children, reminding me that they will grow up and I will be sorry for all the unkindnesses I have done to them.
Or perhaps a book of tickets I can cash in at any time for things I like to do: “Take me to the ice cream store” “Take me to the movie” “Take me for a piece of pizza”.
Still, I understood where I fit – until a couple of years ago when my younger son returned from college sometime early in May. I thought this was a little early for him to be back on our meal plan, but, hey, I was happy to see him.
Not so happy to see his clothes.
A whole year of unwashed clothes (this deserves a whole essay by itself, but…) appeared in his room. A mountain of sullied laundry. I couldn’t even see if he was in his bed, which he was most of the daytime hours.
I have always tried to ignore what my sons’ rooms look like – it is a losing battle, and you have to pick ones you have a chance of winning. But the clothes had that sickening sweet smell of fermented testosterone – it spread throughout the second floor and began to make its way down the stairs.
“What are you cooking?” friends would ask.
“You don’t want to know,” I said.
The clothes also began to grow, or move, or something. I found themselves insinuating themselves into the hallway. They looked like they were headed for our bedroom. If they joined with mine, there would be real trouble. And it would be my fault.
So after a week or two I asked him if he might clean them up.
“Sure, Dad, yeah, right,” he said.
I asked again and again, always meeting with agreement but no action. I suspected I had returned to being background noise in his personal soundtrack – the typical position held by a parent’s desperate pleas.
Until I hatched an idea. Father’s Day was approaching!
“Hey, Dylan,” I said, trying to exorcise any whining that my voice might contain. “Maybe for Father’s Day, you could clean up your clothes. ”
“Sure, Dad, yeah, right,” he comforted.
Then, 11:30 pm on Father’s Day Eve (I know, I know – those words have never been spoken or written together before), Dylan woke me up out of sound sleep. He knelt by my bedside and shook my arm.
“Hey, Dad, don’t look out the window until the morning.”
“Don’t look out the window until the window until the morning.”
He left. Now I was wide-awake for hours, staring at the ceiling, wondering what diabolical thing lay out in my back yard.
The sun rises early on Father’s Day. I got out of bed and looked out the window onto our back lawn.
There they were. All of them. Pants. Socks. T-shirts. Sweat Shirts. Underwear. Spread across the back yard.
I forgot to mention Dylan is an artist. It was a public art installment. He had arranged them into words.
“Happy Pappy Day”
I was so touched. I told him so about 3:30 that afternoon when he got up.
“I’ve been planning it for a long time,” he said.
That evening at dinner, I asked him if he could gather the clothes up now.
“Sure, Dad, yeah, right,” he consoled me.
The art stayed there for three days, when I finally whined enough for me to exceed the signal to noise ratio occupied by background interference. He picked them up, muttering about his father under his breath. But even then, the message was there to remind me that he thinks of me, since the grass underneath the clothes had died. It had died and gone brown, either from lack of sunlight, or that sickening sweet odor of…oh, forget it.
Just one more caution to be careful what you wish for.
Happy Father’s Day.