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Americans Reflect on the Meaning of Father's Day

Today (Sunday, June 19) is Father's Day in America, a day when Americans are invited to think about and appreciate their fathers and their own role as parents. VOA's Adam Phillips was on a train between New York City and Washington this past week and took the opportunity to ask some of the passengers, young and old, to reflect out loud on the meaning of Father's Day.

As the silver train sped through the New Jersey countryside en route to the nation's capital, nine-year-old Blake of Carmel, California, looked safe and secure in his father's lap. He seemed to take the meaning of Father's Day very seriously.

(Blake) It means to celebrate just know that your father is appreciated for being so nice to you and for being your father.

(Reporter) "If you wanted to say something to him on Fathers' Day, what would you say?"

(Blake) "I'd say 'I love you so much, you're a great father.'"

Boys who've grown to men still feel those things in powerful ways. Jim Armstrong of Gloversville, New York, is a grandfather many times over.

(Reporter) "Tell me about Father's Day. Does it mean anything to you?"

(Jim Armstrong) "Oh yeah. My father was my hero. He was a fire chief in Gloversville and it was always thrilling when he went out with the fire engine. But that was a long, long time ago."

(Reporter) "So do you think about him on Father's Day at all?"

(Jim Armstrong) "Absolutely. Every day."

(Reporter) "What do you think about when you think about him?"

(Jim Armstrong) "Just that he was my hero that's all. He was a great guy and very humorous. Always had a story. My dad had the time to spend with us. The fathers today don't have the time to spend with the kids like our dads."

For Clyde Hildebrant, a businessman from Connecticut, Father's Day is a day to appreciate being a father. " I just sit back and reflect at how much I've grown since I've become a father," says Mr. Hildebrant, "and how much it means and how much I've changed for the better when my kids were born and my first child and spending time with the kids. That's really what it's all about."

(Reporter) "What did being a father teach you about yourself?"

(Clyde Hildebrant) "That you have responsibilities now that aren't just about you. You have to take a lot of other things into account and usually it's a smarter, better-informed decision."

Mr. Hildebrandt says that, overall, Mother's Day is more important than Father's Day.

"You're lucky to have the kids anyway. You don't really need the gifts. They [the kids] should never have to give anything back to me for me being their father. Women are a little bit of a different breed. They like to be pampered. They like to be appreciated. I don't think that's a bad thing. I think women deserve to be treated like that."

Dorothy Walker of Brooklyn disagrees: "Father's Day should be extended throughout the year in terms of acknowledging fathers. When I grew up, my father wasn't around because he was off fighting the war. I was a little frightened of him when he came home because he was sort of shell-shocked. Mostly persons speak more about their mothers because a mother, they give life. A father, if he is there, he will really ground the child. I think because I didn't have that I lacked the confidence that most children do have if they do have the father and the mother. The father is the backbone of the family."

That theme was echoed by a 54 year-old Manhattan man who had lost his father at a young age, but who continues to appreciate Father's Day. "I think of 'tall, strong and dependable.' Whether or not someone's father really was like that, that is something everyone needs in their life and Father's day is a time to think of that concept."

For Elaine Lowen of Baltimore, Maryland, vulnerability as well as strength comes to mind on Father's Day. "A father and a daughter always have a very special relationship. You can always go to your mother and talk to your mother, but a father doesn't usually say no when a daughter asks for something. And a daughter has a way of twisting her father around her finger."

Ms. Lowen's granddaughter, Zehava, has been listening and grinning while her grandma speaks.

(Reporter) "Do you have a father?"

(Zehava) "Yes."

(Reporter) "What's he like? Do you have a special name for him?"

(Zehava) "We just all him 'Daddy.' I love him. I talk to him and he hugs me and he kisses me and I kiss him back and I hug him."

(Reporter) "Are you doing anything special this Fathers Day?"

(Zehava) "We're going to make a surprise and we're going to eat together as a family."

To this father, that sounds just about perfect.