13 May 2007

Mother's Day

I’ll admit it: I’ve hated Mother’s Day for as long as I can remember. And Father’s Day too.

According to the Wikipedia entry for Mother’s Day, the holiday “was copied from England by social activist Julia Ward Howe after the American Civil War with a call to unite women against war.” Of course, the entry then goes on to say that “According to the National Restaurant Association, Mother’s Day is now the most popular day of the year to dine out at a restaurant in the United States.”

That might be my problem right there.

Not having lived at the time of the Civil War, I’m in no position to say much about how the holiday used to be in the good old days – but I can say that my experience with it over the last 30+ years has been as reflection of the consumer-driven nature of our society. Whatever it once was, Mother’s Day now is about buying a card, buying flowers, making restaurant reservations, and/or buying a gift. Oh, and being with Mom. I suspect that in addition to the restauranteurs, the other beneficiaries are the card-making companies like Hallmark, florists, drugstores (where cards are sold), and if society is lucky, book stores. Do these companies really need a holiday to generate business? It says something awful about our economy – and our society – if we need a day like Mother’s Day to guilt people into spending money. (Don’t we get enough of that at Christmas and Hanukkah?) Some elementary schools even put teaching on hold for the day so that kids can spend time making cards for Mom, which certainly does not seem like the best reflection on the value of education and learning.

Let’s face it: we shouldn’t need a special day for this. If you’re someone who, for whatever reason, hates your mother, then Mother’s Day is unlikely to do much to turn the situation around. If you have mixed feelings about dear old Mom, then the holiday might be a wash. And if you love your mother, then arguably every day might be some kind of Mother’s Day, with your (lucky) mother having lots of good feelings sent her way on a very regular basis; a day like today is just gilding the lily. (For Father’s Day, repeat above paragraph, replacing words as appropriate.)

In his 1965 album That Was The Year That Was, satirist Tom Lehrer kicked things off with a song called “National Brotherhood Week,” poking fun at the rather tense race relations that were pervasive at the time – or, rather, poking fun at the idea that by designating one week of the year to overcoming the problem, some meaningful change could be effected. Much like National Brotherhood Week, the joke is on us for literally buying into these commercialized remembrances, like Mother’s Day, as if they give us a pass to forget being on our best behavior the rest of the time.

With fatherhood impending, a few people have suggested I might feel differently in the near future, when it comes around to celebrating my efforts as a parent. With all due respect, I don’t think so. There are many things I hope for my child, desires about how s/he will engage with this world and contribute to society as much as possible. I certainly hope for my child’s love and affection – and I definitely hope that we never find ourselves in a situation where the expression of those feelings is channeled towards a single day or event.