Breaking the chain and cynicism of Father’s Day

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Insert “World’s Best Dad” name here

The signs are coming: “World’s Best Dad” printed on multiple t-shirts hanging on a clothes rails; scores of cards with “Number 1 Dad” on; “Perfect gift for Father’s Day” on everything from albums of 1980s soft-rock to packets of beef for the barbecue, essentially anything the real industry deems ‘manly’.  Their prevalence making the statements meaningless.  Their appeal to sentimentality for commercial gain that turns fatherhood into an apparent competition.

I’m not a fan.

Nor am I a fan of the Pedant’s Parade that accompanies it.  Just as night follows day one thing is sure, there will be people who will decry Father’s Day as simply a commercial enterprise with no historical precedent.

Time for a little diversion:

Arguments against Father’s Day, particularly by those use the centuries of background behind Mothering Sunday against it, may lament it as a modern and commercial invention imported into the UK from the USA.  It is true that Father’s Day is first known to have been celebrated in the USA.  Sonora Smart Dodd of Spokane, Washington State, was listening to a sermon on Mother’s Day during the May of 1909 and decided she wanted to similarly celebrate her father.  A year later, after petitioning local politicians, the first Father’s Day was celebrated on 5th June 1910 (See: Remy Melina, 2010).

Mother’s Day, or Mothering Sunday if we are being pedantic, is not the day it once was.  Few practise the 16th Century tradition of visiting their local ‘main’ church or cathedral each year.  Yet it is from the tradition of visiting the ’mother’ church during Lent that we get the ‘mothering’ of Mothering Sunday – a person’s nearest parish church is the ‘daughter’ church of the diocesan cathedral (see BBC, 2011).  These visits also became opportunities for celebratory family reunions when people returned from working away.  In time, this tradition developed into children, working as domestic servants or apprentices, being given a day off to visit their mothers and families.

The transformation of Mothering Sunday into Mother’s Day is as recent as the creation of Father’s Day.  And the history is similar too.  Using the day to celebrate the important role mothers play in our lives, as opposed to visiting mother churches, originated in the USA.  Anna Jarvis campaigned for such a day of celebration following the death of her mother in 1908.  The American President Woodrow Wilson made Mother’s Day an official national celebration in 1914, with Father’s Day being given the same status 10 years later (See: Remy Melina, 2010).

Mothering Sunday as a celebration had largely died out in the UK until revived by Constance Smith in the early 20th Century.  Inspired by Anna Jarvis’s campaign in America, Smith imported it into the UK around 1920.  Although she linked it to the Church of England’s liturgy during Lent it was a celebration of mothers, and not a revival of visiting the mother church (see Howse, 2013). In other words, both Mother’s Day and Father’s Day as celebrated in the UK are ‘modern’ imports from the USA, if you consider 110 years ago to be modern.

The history of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day though is a red-herring.  What is important is the meaning behind it.

Anna Jarvis lamented and campaigned against the commercialisation of the Mother’s Day she did so much to establish, even being arrested for disturbing the peace (see ‘Yesterday‘).  Of the mass produced Mother’s Day cards she commented

“A printed card means nothing, except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world.” (see ‘Yesterday‘ and Howse, 2013) 

I share Anna Jarvis dislike of the commercial aspect, though not to the point of being arrested for it.  But any distain for retailers exploiting celebrations and our laziness for profit can deflect us from the importance and challenges of these days.

As a single person in a family focused church it was not only easy to avoid church on Father’s Day, it was self-preservation to do so.  The celebrations I glimpsed through the windows were reminders of what I had craved but didn’t have.  Unable to cross the threshold, I worshiped from the outside, soaking in the amplified worship and praying through the silence in between.  The celebrations were out of sight but not out of mind.  They challenged me to meet the challenge of loving my father for who he is and not whom I wished he was.  And I do, I love my father.  But as much as I found it difficult to witness the joy I craved I never wanted to deny the joy others had.

That joy and those positive role models of fatherhood became my inspiration to counteract the negativity of fatherhood I had witnessed.  I had seen too many fathers consumed by work to be present for their children.  I had seen too many fathers whose love consisted of bribery and not time.  I had seen too many fathers who had walked out on their children and their wives.  I had no plan to become one of those fathers if or when my children were born.  I had no plan to leave my children fantasising about having a father they found in the movies.

When my children were born I had no plan to celebrate Father’s Day, and I almost got away with it.  At first Father’s Day was little more than a poem sourced from the internet placed by the nursery staff on the day’s piece of art.  I could pass over the poem and focus on my children’s art.  Their joy in their art was shared, their joy in giving it to me was received and reciprocated.  But it wasn’t Father’s Day.

In time they started to understand what they were making, writing and giving on Father’s Day.  Then I couldn’t smile it away.  Then I had to confront my outlook on it.  I had to see the sincerity within their gifts and excitement.  I had to be humble enough to accept and allow my children to celebrate the day.  I had to learn to celebrate the day with them.  And that meant properly accepting that wasn’t enough to love them, it meant being vulnerable enough to accept their love of me.

My cynicism, distain, fears and pain were getting in the way because Father’s Day had been all about me and my father.  But it isn’t and, thankfully, I realised that.  Thankfully I realised it is as much about my father as it is about being one.  I realised that my cynicism of the commerciality is not a reason to treat it with distain.  Instead the cynicism is a reminder to see and celebrate what Father’s Day is really about: celebrating and cherishing the love between children and their father-figures, biological and not.  

Father’s Day is the celebration of a relationship but clearly if there’s no relationship worthy of celebration it can be a deeply painful day.  But that pain, whether our own or out of empathy for others, is not a reason to deny or decry it; instead it is an encouragement to break the chain and not reinforce it.  It is a reason to celebrate and champion the positive role models of fathering that we do have and, importantly, could have.  That is what I am trying to do, not just for my children but for those for whom Father’s Day will be far more painful than I can imagine.

I am grateful that now I can enjoy the conspiratorial giggles between my children as they sneak in their cards and presents into the house.  I am thankful that I have learnt to accept the nonsense of a “best daddy” present because it isn’t nonsense.  I am by no stretch of the imagination a perfect father, I make mistakes, too many of them but my “World’s Best Daddy” mug is a sign that I am doing something right.  It is a sign that my children know I love them and that I know they love me.

I may not be a fan of the commerciality of Father’s Day but that isn’t going to stop me from celebrating the reality of it.

I belong because I don’t

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Sunrise in Easter Day 2019 from an ecumenical service on The Roundhill, Bath

I am over half-way through my Ordination Training and thoughts are starting to turn to curacy.  When my diocese asked me to indicate which type of church I would and wouldn’t work with my reaction surprised me.  The question saddened me.  It was asking me where I belonged.  At once I realised that I belonged everywhere and nowhere. Continue reading

Silently Speaking

Sunset over the island of Coll

Listening to the silence

Growing up as the youngest of three, opportunities to talk were few and far between.  Each one had to be seized upon in case it would be a year before another would come again.  Silence was my chance to speak. 

Whatever the truth of my memory, the impact was that silence became an entity that I needed to fill; if I didn’t, and it continued, I would become increasingly uncomfortable.  And so I filled them.  I would jump into the silence with whatever opinion, facts or half-baked humour I could muster.  It wasn’t always the best idea. 

Filling the silence risks not hearing the very thing that needs to be heard.  Increasingly I’ve realised that isn’t me.  

Continue reading

An Ordinary Office on Iona

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Iona Abbey

Earlier in 2018 a group working to make church and faith accessible to all, called Disability and Jesus, produced a Daily Office – a set of prayers for different times of the day. Their website “An Ordinary Office” includes Morning, Midday and Evening Prayer in text, Makaton, audio and video formats.

During a visit to the island of Iona, off the west coast of Scotland, I recorded the Morning and Evening Prayer liturgies. They were filmed at various locations on the island including Iona Abbey, Columba’s Bay (where St Columba is said to have landed from Ireland and brought Christianity to the area) and the White Strand of the Monks where visiting Vikings killed the Abbey’s Monks that had come out to welcome then).

I hope you enjoy them and find them helpful (there are subtitles available if required).

Morning prayer from Iona

Evening Prayer from Iona

An ambient tour of Iona

Over 9 minutes of peaceful landscapes filmed for the prayer videos.

Testing the limits

2384200Geraint Thomas riding to victory in the 2018 Tour de France (Source: Eurosport)

Over the course of 3 long-read blog posts I am reviewing my first year as an Ordinand, each post focused on 1 of the 3 words that sum up my first year: tea, testing and transformation.  This, the second post in the series, is all about testing, and no, they haven’t brought in doping tests for prospective priests in the Church of England.  

One section of life where tests for performance enhancing drugs is common place is sport, and in particular cycling.  Each July athletes race in the most famous cycling race in the world, the Tour de France.  For 3 weeks cyclists mix sprinting for glory with climbs up some of the highest and toughest mountains that Europe have to offer.  It is a tremendous feat of endurance just for a person to make it to the end on the Champs Élysées in Paris.  This first year of training has similarly felt like a feat of endurance.

Continue reading

Mr Tea

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More tea, Ordinand?

Tea.  Testing.  Transformational.  Three words which capture the essence of my first year of Ordination Training.  This post, the first of 3 blog posts reviewing the year, is all about the power of a cup of tea.  Well, partly.  It’s also about self-awareness and mental health.

A travelling tea set I found in the French town of Périgueux seemed just the thing for a trainee vicar who would often be away from home at a theological college.  Contained within hinged cylindrical metal case, held closed by 2 leather straps, were a trinity of tea caddies and an infuser.  It played up to the stereotype of “More Tea Vicar”, but did so on my terms: the blends of tea inside were drinkable.  Just as I don’t like instant coffee but love coffee brewed from the bean, I love lots of varieties of tea but can’t stand the crowds’ favourite of English Breakfast Tea or ‘Builder’s Tea’.  This, I know, is potentially problematic for someone who may be doing pastoral visits in England, but there is always the simplicity of a glass of water!

What was brought as a piece of amusement proved to teach me an important lessons that carried me through the year: the need for solitude and reflection, and to care for my mental health.   Continue reading

Now, what was I here for?

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The Night Before Christmas (Clement C. Moore, illustrated by Niroot Puttapipat)

Transforming something unknown into something known lies in the future. We can use our imagination and other people’s knowledge to paint a picture of what it might look like but it is only when we catch up with it, when the future becomes the present, that we begin to know the unknown. And so it has turned out with my Ordination Training.

As the training reached full-speed in early October (my studies in September were fairly light) the impact on my daily life quickly became clear: each day would be filled from rising to sleeping. My wife and I both needed to continue with our full-time jobs, my children still needed to be taken to school and clubs, household chores still needed to be done, and occasionally we even needed to eat. The only space for study was my ‘spare-time’, something I enjoyed using to spend time simply being with my family and friends. The study mean that this time would be limited, I would not be able to socialise quite as much as I did and this blog would not be added to quite as often as before. As such this post is as much an account of what it is like to train for ordination whilst working full-time as it is a reflection upon it. Continue reading

An Experiment with Daily Prayer: Part Two 

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In my previous post I wrote about my determination to find a pattern of daily prayer that suited being a working parent.  The combination of the school run, a days work, family life and church had made if difficult to find enough space and time to connect with God through dwelling on liturgy and scripture.

I decided to take 3 different sources of the Daily Office available in multiple formats and focus on each for a week: Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals, the Northumbria Community’s Daily Office and the Church of England’s Time to Pray. which together combine a mixture of books, the internet, smart-phones and music.

This post is part reflection and part review of these and the impact focusing on applying them to an inconsistent and complicated schedule had on me.  As I found out when trying to do Morning, Midday and Night Prayer, not each format is necessarily suited to each part of the day. Continue reading

An Experiment with Daily Prayer: Part One

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Starting my Ordination Training has once again made me examine my pattern of prayer.  Over the years I have used lots of different patterns and sources in my attempt to take my focus off myself and onto God and others.  I have had times when it has worked, when I have tapped into a rich seem of inspirational liturgy but such times have ebbed and flowed with an unhelpful inconsistency.  This inconsistency has meant that the focusing and calming effect of prayer became vulnerable to be lost, drowned out or shut out by the distractions and pace of everyday life. Continue reading

Top 10 Tips for Starting Ordination Training

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Sarum College in Salisbury

For some, September and October marks the beginning of their ordination training. My training at Sarum College in Salisbury began a little earlier with a week-long Summer School in August. It was a welcomed opportunity to build a sense of community with the tutors and other students, and gave me a chance to pick up some tips for theological study that may be helpful; so here are my Top 10 Tips for Starting ordination training. Continue reading