News & Politics

What Men Really Want for Father's Day

Hint: It's not another tie.
When I ask fathers what they desire for Father's Day it's not more stuff like electronic gadgets and clothing, unnecessary items that only contribute to the pollution of our planet. What many would ideally appreciate is a consequential gathering of family and friends where we could share about or from our experience being fathers. Some of us would love the opportunity to converse about something meaningful like how to stop the destruction of our Earth, elect a new president, or how our families can practice the values we want to see in our society.

Maybe, I'm old fashioned, yet for me fatherhood is about caring for my children, family and community. It involves earning an income to ensure my family has what we need to survive and succeed; raising my children to be self-confident and caring individuals; modeling values of respect for family, community and Mother Earth; and doing what I can to ensure peace, justice and a sustainable future. For me, fatherhood is the long-term project of learning to be porvida (for life and love), that is a caring person, responsible parent, and an activist.

Yes, I'm a family and cultural activist. As it is essential to engage in the politics of advocacy or voting for change, I believe it is equally vital to foster change that makes us more loving, caring, and powerful individuals and families. To advance a just world, we must create loving families. A great time for doing this is at our special occasions when we bring together family and friends, like anniversaries, birthdays, or holidays; like Father's Day! For this reason, years ago when my adult children were still small, we began the fun process of reinventing how we celebrated holidays, including Father's Day.

The first U.S. Father's Day was celebrated by a Methodist Church congregation in Fairmont, West Virginia, on July 2, 1908 to honor the 361 men, many fathers, who died in a local mining explosion in Monongah.

Just as this community honored these fathers for their dedicated labor back then, we began doing the same in our family gatherings by using them to remind our children of our working class origins, and more.

Over the years we created an opportunity for our children to honor their father by helping me reflect on how well I was doing as a father and also allowing me to advance the vision I hold for our family.

For this celebration, like other occasions that involve honoring a person, we organize a unity circle and invite those present to share their words of gratitude for the person being recognized. We also invite the honoree to express their thoughts or vision. For our family Father's Day celebration this typically involved a couple of circles, our intimate morning circle of my wife and our daughters and another afternoon or evening circle, when other family and friends were invited.

Whether small or large, the ceremony follows a similar design. Once the circle of people is brought together, Rebeca, my wife, or I will burn a few leaves of white sage which in our indigenous tradition signifies sacred time. For this occasion she provides the opening prayer, and afterwards invites those present to take the talking stick to offer heart words to me as the father being recognized. In our tradition whoever holds the talking stick is to speak honest words and everyone else is responsible to listen. If it was just our small children present, Rebeca would invite them to share "Some good words for papi, something you like about him and maybe something he can improve on". For our larger group gathering, the invitation was often to share words of gratitude or well wishes for each of the fathers present. For me this part of the ceremony is always uplifting. It nurtures one's spirit to hear words of appreciation from those you love, and to hear suggestions for improvement. Also, these expressions make the feeling of love very present.

Finally, when I receive the talking stick, it's my opportunity to share my gratitude and a teaching for the children while they are in this receptive moment. On occasions I have shared about my father who has passed on, and my gratitude for his commitment to family and for his labor that enabled me to go to college, develop my profession and raise my family. Or, I have shared what I have been learning about being a good father or my vision for our family or our community. Then, I usually get to put forth my request for the day which has varied from a picnic, hike or family conversation of my choosing. During the evening, we would usually have a few friends over and do an abbreviated version of our early ceremony.

Over the years we have experienced the impact of these ceremonies upon our children. The mindfulness we have committed to planning and facilitating these porvida family gatherings have aided us in nurturing the core values our children hold today -- to honor themselves and others, to be respectful, and to make their contribution toward advancing goodness in the world.

Last year our Father's Day gathering was different. Rebeca and I had moved hundreds of miles away to live near to and care for my mother, while our adult children had also moved to different parts of the country. On this occasion we invited several uncles and aunts who have been my mother's dear supporters, to her home. Given this group's unfamiliarity with our practices, we did our Father's Day ceremony with less of our traditional ways. No sage or talking stick, yet we informally facilitated a process that evolved into everyone present sharing appreciative words for the fathers and mothers present. The experience was validating for our elders, brought us all closer together, and we did share our petition to support the call of the local union to boycott an unfair supermarket chain.

This year, given the ripe time for change that exists within our nation, my local daughter, Andrea, and I look forward to another evolution in our Father's Day tradition. We are going to widen our circle and invite over more cousins and friends. The theme of our gathering will be "Being Fathers for Love and Change", and participants will be invited to bring their favorite dish, and come willing to participate in a conversation about love and change.

This is exactly what family activists do. We view family gatherings as opportunities to facilitate conversations that foster learning, inspiration and mutual support, and then plan accordingly. For this occasion, we'll invite guests to arrive an hour before dinner, so we can recognize our fathers, explain our theme, and invite our attending fathers to share short stories of the ways we are advancing love and change. We will do a few of these stories before dinner, allow people to freely converse during our meal, and then afterwards respond to the question, "What can we all do to better our family, community or society?" Finally, in our tradition, we'll close the evening with a unity circle in which all present are invited to share a few words about how they feel.

To create the change we desire for our world requires this ever constant commitment to make our lives reflective of the values and energy we hope for. Given our experience, we know there will be positive outcomes from our forthcoming Father's Day event. It is already nurturing me, as I am experiencing the enthusiasm of my daughter who is committed to making it happen. This year my request is that we all explore how we can make our Father's Day events more porvida -- for life, love, respect and peace.

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Roberto Vargas is an educator and consultant on personal and group empowerment, the ceremony leader for activist communities and organizations, and the author of Family Activism: Empowering Your Community, Beginning with Family and Friends.