By Ted Rickard
Most of us have forgotten, if we ever knew or paid any attention, that Father’s Day was created by a trade organization known as the American Cigar Institute, or something like that. Mother’s Day, a month before, has its own share of angst, but in general it calls for bright and cheerful, yellow-flowers type of thoughts. Father’s Day, on the other hand, seems to be more serious—maybe because it all started with cigars, which in some quarters are still taken seriously.
In my childhood, the cigars came down to two White Owls, stogies paid for out of paper route profits and wrapped in left-over Christmas paper. Cigars were a nickel apiece at the time, and affection competed mightily with the temptation to spend one of the nickels, instead, on a bag of “Bulls-eyes.” A clinical psychologist might be interested in this.
The cigars were always a hit. My dad would ceremoniously unwrap one, roll it between thumb and fingers, while he sniffed in exaggerated ecstasy over its bouquet, and then solemnly light it by slowly turning it in the flame of a paper match. With a five-cent stogie, it must have required considerable dramatic talent to put on a convincing air of hedonistic satisfaction. Dad did exhale rather hastily, as I remember it, but always managed to produce the appropriate throaty mutters of sheer delight.
A generation later, when it was my turn for Father’s Day, the cigars had given away to a package of Camel cigarettes wrapped in kitchen aluminum foil. The light-up rituals just didn’t work with a cigarette. And by the time the oldest was in third grade, he had enlisted his siblings in an intensive anti-smoking campaign that drove me first to hide behind the garage after dinner just like I did when I was 16; and then, when winter came, to quit smoking entirely before I came down with frostbite or pneumonia.
After tobacco products, Father’s Day gifts became more creative. My office filled with ceramic paper weights, paper clip holders and lopsided coffee cups. Bookmarks were done in multi-color designs rivaling the Book of Kells. A perpetual calendar—with Thursday spelled “Thersday” in what I swear was the teacher’s hand—had lettering painted in glue and then sprinkled with sand. It obviously kept 20 five-year-olds busy for more than one morning. And it certainly kept me busy wiping sand off the desktop in a futile effort to keep it off the cruller that came, occasionally, with morning coffee.
As the children grew older, there was a string of golf-related gifts. I’d played golf—badly—as a caddie, when the club shafts were still painted to look like wood. Since then, all sorts of things had been invented to hone non-existent skills at the game. One of these was a putting cup, which fired the ball back like a rocket launcher. The first shot out of this scared the dog into the basement, where she stood and barked herself hoarse until dawn, and made the cat hysterical enough to urinate on the device in self-defense.
The next year, I got a bristle mat and a wall-sized net into which I was supposed to wallop the golf ball. The picture on the package showed this all set up in somebody’s garage. What it didn’t show was what the golfer did with his car in the meantime. I finally decided he took a cab—to the golf course.
I may have given up on golf, but I still look forward to Father’s Day. Right now, one of the grandchildren is molding a ceramic toothbrush holder; you poke your toothbrush into the hole in the top, right above the thumb-print. And his cousin is assembling a pencil holder made out of ice-cream sticks glued to a toilet paper tube and painted in red and green and blue to match just about any color scheme a man could think of.
After all, what do you give a guy who’s got everything?
Theodore Rickard is a writer living in Yarmouth Port, MA.