Silver Threads: Memories from a Daddy's Girl
It’s a sultry summer afternoon in 1944, and I am lying on the bed in my grandmother’s room, the one furtherest away from the commotion in the rest of our house, and a retreat for a little girl covered with itchy and burning measles and slathered in calamine lotion.
The room is dark, shades drawn against the light, a measure thought necessary — in those days of consulting an aunt instead of a doctor — to prevent the outbreak from damaging my eyes. I’m not allowed to read — my ruling passion — and can only listen to whatever comes over the radio and take a little relief in the breeze stirred up by a small electric fan.
Mother and Mam-maw are busy in the kitchen; my sisters, who will be sharing my present space as invalids in only a few days, are out playing somewhere. And Daddy —- oh, rats! — I hear his car drive up. He’s going to come in, check on me, “pick” at me, sit on my bed, aggravate me, handsome face creased in smiles, laughter at my insulting ears covered with an obnoxious viral outbreak.
We both know I am a Daddy’s Girl even as I order him out of the room, yell to my mother to come and get him. Demand solitude in my affliction.
How I wish I had those moments back; we understood each other, relished this game he and I played with no one else. Of course I remember this “measles episode” all these years later; Daddy’s version of a bedside manner, care giving — and love.
It’s almost Father’s Day again and mine, of course, is gone. But I salute the sentiment with enthusiasm, even though it got off to a slow start. A Washington state woman, Sonora Smart Dodd, had gotten the ball rolling for a celebration on June 19, 1910, Wikipedia reports, but in the 1920s, Dodd took a recess for a while to go to school and the project faded into relative obscurity. In the 1930s, she returned to Spokane and started promoting the idea again, raising awareness at a national level.
“Americans resisted the holiday for its first few decades, viewing it as nothing more than an attempt by merchants to replicate the commercial success of Mother's Day, and newspapers frequently featured cynical and sarcastic attacks and jokes,” reports Wikipedia.
I was surprised to learn that what I had thought was a national and official celebration dating back to the early days of the 20th century was in fact not legitimized until 1966. According to Wikipedia, “President Lyndon B. Johnson issued the first presidential proclamation honoring fathers, designating the third Sunday in June as Father's Day. Six years later, the day was made a permanent national holiday when President Richard Nixon signed it into law in 1972.”
The typical father’s role in the family has changed since Dodd’s day, even though she was seeking to honor her single dad, who reared six children. Of course, there were always men from whom much was required. But these days parenthood is more to be viewed as teamwork with increasing numbers of women going to work outside the home.
My mother was a full-time mom, and Daddy never cooked, cleaned or joined a car pool, if indeed any existed. But he guided the lives of my sisters and brother and me and made things possible for us. He was always there — even if irritatingly so at times. See above.
Bettye Anding is a former editor of the Living section of The Times Picayune, for which she wrote “Silver Threads” until her retirement. Email comments to her at [email protected]