Growing up in upstate New York in the 1950s, what I remember most clearly about Father’s Day are the homemade gifts that we worked on for weeks in advance in shop class, before school closed for the summer. One year I labored over the construction of a tie rack, designed like a cowboy holding a long stick, over which the ties would drape in a row. Like my father even wore ties? Anyway, that was the task for all of us kids, to come up with something that showed great effort for our fathers. By the time I was in high school, shop class long behind me, my mother would choose a Father’s Day gift from the family. Despite her frugality, a week before Father’s Day my mother and I would take the bus downtown to buy dad a gift—usually something he could wear to work, like winter gloves or a flannel shirt—all on sale during the summer. Afterward, we would walk over to dad’s parking lot and wait for him to close up. Then we would all ride home together, his present hidden in mom’s shopping bag.
My mother’s gift to my dad on Father’s Day was to cook his favorite meal for dinner- beef brisket with sides of baked potatoes and roasted carrots, followed by chocolate cake. Before sitting down to eat, my dad downed a shot of whiskey. Then he dug into mom’s dinner like it was his last supper. No restaurant could offer the same level of satisfaction and happiness as his favorite meal homecooked by my mom. Whether the children attended this sumptuous meal on Father’s Day was beside the point with dad. My sister usually found a reason to drop off a present and skipped out on the dinner. My brother always seemed to be somewhere else—college, law school or selling something. With mom in the kitchen, I was usually my dad’s sole companion and of course I watched what I said and how I responded to any questions he threw at me. “Yes, school was fine.” “No I was not looking forward to summer because I am not going to camp.” That one was my attempt to get him to agree with mom that I have two weeks away at Camp Seneca. Usually between the first and second helping dad would be amenable to discussing the camp request which usually was about the cost.
During my teens dad wanted me working the parking lot during the summer to cut down on his payroll. I learned my negotiating skills by trading off hours at the lot for two weeks at Camp Seneca. I was being paid, ha ha, and the salary was to be applied to camp fees. Years later, when I got married and headed to law school, my mother presented me with a passbook to a savings account in my name with the notation, “Parking Lot Money.” My gosh my dad had kept his word. I think there was $2,500 in that account. My folks were real savers. I can almost hear my folks today, seeing the presents kids lavish on their father for Father’s Day: “Save for a rainy day, Lenny.”