Apodaca: Dad's role is just as important as Mom's

"It's a wise father that knows his own child."

William Shakespeare wrote that in his play, "The Merchant of Venice."

Anyone who stayed awake during high school English knows that quotes from the Bard are drenched with layer upon layer of meaning. But, as today is Father's Day, best not to go too deep.

For all the dads out there, today is the time for the nation to recognize that it isn't moms alone who are meant to shoulder the burden and savor the joys of raising children. So lap up the gratitude Dad, for tomorrow you'll be back to your under-appreciated normal.

There's just one thing I can't help noticing, though. Father's Day is supposed to put dear old Dad on equal footing with Mom on the gratefulness scale, but it doesn't really seem to play out that way.

As much as we might pretend otherwise, Mother's Day is treated with more respect, more gravitas, if you will, than Father's Day.

I mean, heaven forbid you should forget to call or send flowers, overcook pancakes, or whatever else for Mom. On Mother's Day, you'd better deliver or you'll carry the weight of guilt for an entire year.

Father's Day seems, well, just a little easier to coast through, and the numbers bear that thought out. According to the National Retail Federation, Americans are expected to shell out a total of $12.7 billion for Dad's special day this year.

Not too shabby, you might think, but it's a mere pittance compared with the estimated $18.6 billion spent on Mother's Day.

Even the origins of Father's Day betray its second-class status.

The concept of Mother's Day dates back to the 19th century. By 1909, egged on by the retail establishment, the vast majority of states recognized the day, and in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson approved a resolution making the second Sunday in May a day of national observance of mothers.

Father's Day, by contrast, emerged as more of an afterthought — as well as another retailing opportunity — decades after. Despite half-hearted attempts over the years to make Father's Day official, it didn't achieve permanent national status until President Richard Nixon signed off on the idea in 1972.

Thus, the third Sunday of June became Father's Day, and Americans have been struggling ever since to try to figure out what the heck to do about it.

Retailers seem to lump their helpful suggestions into a few basic categories: sports, electronics, products for the improvement of men's scent and fashion sense, and stuff for the barbecue. (I'd throw in books, but advertisements typically promote mainly books about sports and grilling.) Funny how we never see tips about opera tickets that Dad might love.

Over the years, I've mined just about every variation of these themes imaginable. I can now proudly state that my dear father-in-law has a closet stuffed with golf shirts and more grilling doo-dads than he knows what to do with.

My husband doesn't fare much better. Our sons, who inevitably suffer brain overload from their school final exams, which are always scheduled right around Father's Day, usually resort to a box of golf balls and a hastily composed computer-generated card. It's the thought that counts, right?

It might be tempting for some of us moms to suggest that Father's Day is a second-string holiday for good reason. We could bring up that whole pain-of-childbirth thing again.

I could also use the occasion to remind my husband about the time when I was down with a nasty case of flu, and I asked him to supervise the nightly bath of our then 3-year-old. Shoulders slumped, he trudged to the bathroom, paused, turned around, and asked, "So, how do you do it?"

Oh, but it would be petty of me to bring up such instances of male cluelessness. In truth, my husband and all other loving, caring, committed fathers are due their day every bit as much as mothers.

I might have been the expert on bath time, but it was my husband who coached, played catch, planned outings to sporting events, and went on Indian Guide campouts. He has worked hard to give our boys a secure home and opportunities, and he has always encouraged them to set the bar high for achievement. They will be better men because they have a dad who loves them unreservedly.

This Father's Day, we are attending our son's commencement ceremony at UCLA, and afterward we're celebrating with family members. College graduation is a monumental, once-in-a-lifetime event, and the focus will be on our son. Dad will get short shrift once again.

But perhaps that's exactly how it should be. What better way to honor a father than to recognize his child's success? What better Father's Day gift could there be? How happy my husband will be in knowing that his boy is a college graduate, and that he'll enjoy a short reprieve from tuition payments before our younger son starts college.

It sure beats another box of golf balls.

PATRICE APODACA is a Newport-Mesa public school parent and former Los Angeles Times staff writer. She is also a regular contributor to Orange Coast magazine. She lives in Newport Beach.

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