I am fairly certain that much of my family became Jehovah’s Witnesses because they didn’t want to celebrate holidays. Instead of just admitting that the adults couldn’t afford presents for us children, they told us the lack of birthday, Christmas, and other gifts were against God’s will. (It’s really a cold game out there.) I will fully admit that being raised in this environment has influenced my borderline distaste of almost all holidays—especially holidays where gifts are given.
It was sad when all the kids would have birthdays in school, and I wasn’t allowed to have any cake or ice cream because partaking was “against Jehovah’s wishes.” The worst was when we’d all return to school from winter break. All of my classmates showed off their Christmas presents, and I’m sitting there with last year’s gear and broken toys.
If it were just about poverty, I might not have felt so badly. If my family would’ve explained that we didn’t have any money to spare after all the necessities were addressed, I would’ve been fine. But to be told you’d be going against God for celebrating holidays, or receiving gifts—that was too much.
It took me years to shake it off, this feeling guilty about celebrating any kind of holiday. I didn’t have a birthday party until I was in my late 20s—and it felt a whole different kind of weird. I’m still not too comfortable with being “celebrated” or celebrating. Now that I am a father, and my wife will celebrate the opening of an envelope, I have to leave all that past baggage behind and be open to any and all holidays and celebrations.
Well, maybe I don’t have to leave all my reservations behind. I might be able to repurpose them.
Father’s Day is less than a week away. This will be my sixth, and I’m hoping to do something different. I really don’t need anything. I’m not a pack rat, and I live a fairly Spartan lifestyle, so I’m not too fond of receiving stuff I don’t need. Also, let’s be frank: sometimes we wish we never were given some of the useless trinkets a few of our folks thought were “just right” for us. I don’t need that stress.
Despite folk’s insistence that they are fine with whatever gifts they receive on whichever holiday, there is usually a subliminal judgment. “Why did I get this, instead of that? They really don’t know me.” And against better efforts and judgment, a sliver of anger and/or contempt settles in.
I used to date a woman whose family treated Christmas gift-giving as a competitive sport. They weren’t shy about voicing their displeasure at a wack gift received. Being with them for two consecutive Christmases was enough to put me off the whole gift exchange thing for good.
Enter my wife.
My wife will celebrate any- and everything. As we both grew up poor, she’s adamant that our daughter gets to experience what it’s like to have “traditional” holiday experiences (read: receiving gifts). While I agree that this is great for our child, I do not need this, and I told her that I was cool off Father’s Day. I said it wasn’t a big deal, and that we should save the time, energy and money for our upcoming anniversary. I relayed this to a friend, and he and I went about remaking Father’s Day.
I would love to see Father’s Day repurposed as a day not tied to any kind of commercial enterprise or endeavor, but as a day of service and connection. I’d like to see the idea of fatherhood celebrated, instead of the individual. (Fathers Day then, not Father’s Day.) Fathers Day could be a time where experienced dads reached out to the new and expectant fathers to share their hard-won wisdom. Sons could take the time to really listen to their fathers, and grandfathers (if they’re lucky enough to have one). And fathers could use the day as an opportunity to praise their sons for doing a good job raising their own children.
There are tons of mommy and baby get-togethers. It would be great to see fathers and their children gather at the lake, the park, or on the block—just be in each other’s company and mutually acknowledge just how much of a crazy, beautiful, frustrating, exhilarating, nerve-wracking and honorable thing it is to be a father.
Shawn Taylor is the author of Big Black Penis: Misadventures in Race and Masculinity, and People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm. He lives in the San Francisco Bay area with his wife and daughter, and can be found sporadically on Twitter @reallovepunk.