It’s almost Father’s Day. You know what that is. That’s the day when we honor one of our parents by dragging cancer awareness into it. Mother’s Day has become breast cancer awareness day, and not to be outdone, Father’s Day has lately had a prostate cancer awareness tacked on for poor old dad. (How about testicular cancer awareness while we’re at it?)
Here’s an idea, how about just a plain old Father’s Day with no life-threatening disease attached to it. No blue bats at the baseball games. No blue ribbons or wristbands. Why not make Father’s Day simply about our loving dad, showing him respect and doing something that would make him happy? Wouldn’t that be nice?
I miss the good old Mother’s and Father’s Days of the past when we honored mom and dad with making their breakfast in bed, or taking them out for dinner, or just showing our love by helping them with household chores. Throwing cancer into the day puts a heavy pall on the whole thing.
Another thing, why can’t they leave Mother’s Day alone and have a separate breast cancer awareness day? Oh, I remember, they do. It’s in October and it’s more than a single day, it lasts for the entire month. That’s right; October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
By the way, why do we need “awareness” at all? Is there anybody left on the planet that is still unaware of breast cancer? Just call it Breast Cancer Raising Money for Research Month, ‘cause that’s what it really is all about. And that’s fine, raising money to cure all cancers is a good thing. I’m all for it. Just let’s be honest about it. And let’s keep it out of Mother’s Day (and Valentine’s Day). So now that I’ve gotten that off my breast, I mean chest, let’s get back to dear ol’ dad.
For Mother’s Day I paid tribute to Fay Bainter and Beulah Bondi, a couple of classic movie actresses who were known for playing mothers. There are a couple of actors of that era who were just as in demand for the father parts.
Here’s a name you don’t hear anymore: Charles Coburn. Heavyset Coburn was a movie actor in the ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s who specialized in playing corpulent rich father parts. He was “father” to sons like James Stewart, Bing Crosby, David Niven and Cary Grant (though not all in the same movie). And Coburn famously played Barbara Stanwyck’s con artist card sharp dad in The Lady Eve.
Eugene Paulette was another rotund rich father type who played papa to Henry Fonda, Bette Davis, Carol Lombard and Loretta Young, among others. Heavyset seemed to be the size of choice for rich father parts because Edward Arnold was another actor who did his share of them. He played father to James Stewart, Olivia de Havilland and Ray Milland, to name a few. Walter Connolly was yet another full-figured actor who fit into many father parts of those years.
Spencer Tracy wasn’t really fat, but he personified the father who gets no respect but plenty of aggravation when his daughter decides to marry in the classic Father of the Bride.
In real life, today’s fathers get less respect than Rodney Dangerfield and fewer honors than Benedict Arnold. Part of the reason is because it’s become a woman’s world. Single mothers are lauded and admired, many working moms are pulling in more money than their spouses, and colleges are graduating much more women than they are men these days.
The father, once the backbone of the family unit, has now become the backend of the family unit. Daddy has lost much of his prestige and purpose in our new culture. As more and more women move into what were once traditional men’s roles, where does that leave the men? The family, like the whole world, isn’t what it used to be, but the father figure should be treated just as importantly as he ever was. Maybe even more so now.
Too many American families, especially in poorer households, do not have a father living at home. This is a terrible thing for everyone concerned, including society at large. The old-fashioned structure of having a father’s strong influence and guidance in the home needs to return. It’s especially important for little boys to have that authoritative male role model in their lives. A solid dependable father who loves and supports his family and contributes to the well being of his children is definitely worthy of honor on Father’s Day.
Just because your dad doesn’t look like Charles Coburn, Walter Connelly or Eugene Paulette doesn’t mean he isn’t a great father. And really, you wouldn’t want your father to look that way anyway. Heavy isn’t healthy.
Greg Crosby is a writer and cartoonist and former executive at the Walt Disney Company.