Two of my favorite holidays come in June – Flag Day on June 14, and Father’s Day, this year on June 18. What I particularly love about Flag Day is that it gives us an opportunity to be patriotic without all the red-white-and-blue hoopla of the Fourth of July. You never see blonde bimbos draped over Ford trucks in Flag Day ads. Instead we should think about the flag and its history and what it represents to our nation, because it really is a symbol that tells a story. Conceptually, it echoes the British Union Jack, whose crossed bars represent the joining of England and Scotland into Great Britain. And unlike traditional banners, there’s no coat of arms suggesting a royal family or powerful aristocracy that run things.
Every flag represents its nation to some extent, but ours combines, in its 13 stripes, the origin of the American Revolution – the 13 original colonies that said “No” to King George – with the concept of a federalist system of equal states that make up a united group in the individual stars, clumped together in a pattern that has changed over the centuries but in which each is treated equally. There are many who believe that the red represents the blood of patriots and the white the purity of the American cause, and that the blue represents the heavenly sky under which the states united.
There are also lots of protocols in place about displaying the flag, most of which can easily be found by a quick Google search. Every citizen should learn them to show respect for the flag itself, what it represents – our liberty and our union – and the founding fathers and mothers who made those realities possible.
What I like about Father’s Day is that it reminds us to think about the men who raised us, who are so often ignored. Fathers have a big role to play in our lives, as children and after we’ve grow up. It’s unfortunate – it’s appalling – how many fathers are absent from their children’s lives, but that just points up how important they can and should be. They can be stern and strict, nurturing and loving, proud and overbearing, insensitive and embarrassing, and sometimes all the above, sometimes all at once. They often take undue pride in the family name – making them proud of their children when we live up to it, and mad as hell when we besmirch it through some idiotic decision. They usually want their sons to be just like them, and their daughters to marry someone just like them (and sometimes they have to settle for having a gay son fall in love with someone just like them!). But somehow, for me at least, a father, much like your local locksmith, is the guy who’s never in the limelight like a mother, but who gets all sorts of things done.
In my house, while my mom was “busy” with stuff – work, cleaning, cooking, disciplining, and all the other stuff that makes a home operate – my dad was slipping off down to the basement workshop building a doghouse for my brother’s Dachshund or painting a bedroom suite for my sister or making a little ring holder that my mom could use to put her wedding ring in for safekeeping while she washed dishes. Things that he made or fixed just magically appeared in the house, just as vacation trips magically got organized and family campouts got planned and executed.
I was lucky that way – my family was intact, both my parents loved all of us, and my dad was present (when he wasn’t traveling for business) but not too overbearing. A lot of people I know weren’t as fortunate, and it’s hard for them to make up for what they missed, whether their father was absent or abusive of just plain not good.
Every year, though, around mid-June, I want to thank my dad and every dad for being who they were. And I’m always determined NOT to buy him a tie or a sweater. What I look for instead is something mechanical, something that echoes the role he held in our household of keeping us safe.
This year it might be a new security camera for the house, one that he can program to his heart’s content so that every time he locks up the house is guarded and safe. One that gives him endless options for timers and choosing the other systems that will be connected to it – basically a big boy’s toy that has real practical applications. Or maybe just a new, high-quality deadbolt for the basement door that my mom always worries about. Whatever I get him, I’m going to wrap it in paper with a stars-and-stripes theme, to remind him (and me) that the flag represents both the freedom and the security that are our legacy from him and our forefathers.