Father’s Day is always on a Sunday. Like many churches, this year I had to wrestle with what we were going to do for fathers on Fathers Day. I usually try to think of something simple (and cheap) to give to the fathers just like I do on Mother’s day. Last year I gave out “Dad’s Rootbeer.” This year I chose a small ratchet strap. It seemed like something Dads would need. But a day or so later I was talking with a friend. He said to me, “What does a ratchet strap have to do with being a father?” It was a good question. I admitted I didn’t really know. He went on to say “What do fathers want? Time with their kids. Ratchet straps are for men, not dads.” His words have been resonating with me. I have been thinking about them for a week now. I have also been thinking about the pressure I feel when I see what other churches did for men on fathers day. Some churches go all out. And many times I am jealous of what they do for Fathers. But my friend’s comment has me thinking.
What I am about to say is just some observations. So please forgive me if they come across as critical. Maybe they are, but they aren’t meant to be. Please just hear my own struggle in these observations. Pastoring is a tough enough job without having our fellow pastors criticizing each other. But I think a few things need to be considered when it comes to Father’s Day. These are thoughts about how we celebrate Fathers Day I am struggling with.
First, I question how Mothers day and Fathers day became Christian holidays to begin with. Its obvious, if they land on a Sunday, everyone expects the church to do something. Many pastors, including myself, have shied away from the whole “mothers stand up and we will honor you” thing. I think we all realize that family situations are so much more complicated. That applies to Dads as well. My Dad used to alway say that he hated Fathers Day at church because on Mothers Day the Pastor would say how wonderful mothers were. On Fathers Day, the pastors would beat up on the dads for not doing enough. I don’t think he’s alone in that sentiment. Being a parent is really hard. And no one thinks they do a good job at it. Because of these things, I have had to stop making the service about Dads or Moms and just keep our focus on Jesus. I figure the families can celebrate their own parents well enough without me.
Second, it seems Fathers Day has turned into a sort of “man day” or an annual celebration of men. In the same way that not all women are mothers, not all men are fathers. It seems to me that car shows, barbecues, tool give aways and manly events are becoming the most popular way to celebrate fathers today. But so many of those things are stereotypical ”manly” things. But are they ‘fatherly” things? I wonder how the female children of that father enjoy the car show? I wonder if that 50 inch TV will encourage a father to spend more time with their kids? What if the father doesn’t like cars or bacon or doesn’t fix anything around the house? What if they love to read? What church gives away books? What exactly are we celebrating about fathers by giving away WD-40 and big screen tvs? Those seem more like man things (if that is such a thing). Like my friend asked, “what does that have to do with being a father?” I even have a friend who has never had kids who won a pressure washer at a Fathers Day service a couple years back. He wasn’t sure if he should take it. You see? Isn’t it confusing? I think next year I will give away something that will give fathers time with their children. To me that would honor fathers. I am not sure what yet. But I have to think of something.
Thirdly. I fear that the modern church has turned every holiday into a marketing scheme. Remember when we used to have big Christmas productions so that we could invite all our friends to church? Now we do that for every holiday: Christmas, Valentines Day, Easter, Fourth of July, Mother’s Day, Fathers Day, Grandparents Day, Memorial day…you get the point. I know why churches do it up big on Father’s Day. Its another opportunity to invite people to come to church. Maybe it works. But I am afraid its starting to feel like a gimmick to get men to go to church. We sure brand it that way with all the meat, cars and mustaches! Plus, it really doesn’t work for the average church. Many times these are our lowest attended services. We don’t get holiday bumps like larger churches. My father comes to my church on Father’s day, but I am the pastor! Many of my members go to be with their fathers at their churches on Fathers Day. And most of them go to the big churches who have the big events.
On the one hand I don’t think we do enough to honor both fathers and mothers for the role they play. I believe parents have a tough job. Fathers who stay engaged should be celebrated. On the other hand, I hope the way we go about celebrating fathers doesn’t distract us from the true value of fathers. I don’t want to celebrate men, I want honor Fathers. Fathers matter to children. Especially to the fathers of children who are still in the homes. These are the fathers I want to go out of my way to say thank you to. Thank you for playing with your kids when you are tired. Thank you for putting down the remote and reading to your kids. Thank you for taking a trip to the park. Thank you for putting your wife’s needs ahead of your own. Thank you for showing up at the doctor appointment. Thank you for playing barbies and princesses with your girls. Thank you for teaching your child when they do something wrong instead of just punishing them. What can I give a Father who does that? Do you know? What can I pass out on a Father’s Day that will encourage and honor Dad’s who do that? Because that is worth celebrating.