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Outgoogled, yes, but at least we’re not ant-like

When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.

–Mark Twain

June 2009

Let’s admit it, dads: Father’s Day does not have the profile of Mother’s Day. Even on the eve of Our Day, Mom’s day “outgoogles” Dad’s 2-1, and according to commercial calculations, people spend significantly less on Father’s Day than on Mother’s Day. On the other hand lads, let us refrain from diluting our brew with maudlin tears, because there are several lexical advantages to being male.

Most importantly, there is no term in English that recognizes the right of a woman to kill her husband. We have the word “uxoricide,” which entered our lexicon in the mid 19th century to refer to the murder of a wife by her husband but (so far) no word to describe the legitimate or illegitimate murder of a husband is recorded in any dictionary. So ladies, remember that from a lexical perspective, while the English language will countenance you killing your mother (matricide), your sister (sororicide), your brother (fratricide), your father, (patricide), and even your dog and rabbit (canicide & leporicide), the offing of your husband is verboten.

Aside from not possessing a word that legitimizes “hubby-whacking,” here are several other lexical pluses to carrying the y chromosome. To extend Simon & Garfunkel’s list, I’d rather be a hammer, major, and governor than a nail, majorette and governess. Also, as a male, I can be described as avuncular, which means resembling an uncle, with connotations of being friendly, helpful and good-humoured, whereas a woman can only be so described by the entomologically sounding “aunt-like.”

Notwithstanding that maternity is a matter of fact and paternity often a matter of opinion, men easily outdistance woman in their ability to pass on surnames based on their chromosomal arrangement. The term “patronymic” receives 391,000 Google hits; whereas “matronymic” receives a paltry 16,100. Patronymics – names derived from a male’s ancestors such as Davidson, Ivanov, MacDonald, and O’Connor – are very common. Matronymics, such as Dworkin (named after Devorah) or Rifkin (named after Rivka), are quite rare. The presumption when one hears the word polygamy is that it refers to a man having more than one wife, but in fact, it merely refers to having more than one spouse of either gender. The actual word for having more than one wife is “polygyny,” which receives 510,000 Google hits compared to “polyandry” (having more than one husband), which gets 317,000 Google hits. Of course, the propensity of men having a greater quantity of concurrent spouses than women will not seem advantageous to some men.

Cynics would have us believe that Father’s Day was established as a result of effective lobbying by the Hallmark Corporation. In fact, when the holiday was proposed, there was no such thing as a Father’s Day card. American Louise Sonora Smart Dodd first proposed the idea of a “father’s day” in 1909 after listening to a Mother’s Day sermon. Mrs. Dodd wanted a special day to honour her father, William Smart, who became widowed when his wife (Mrs. Dodd’s mother) died in childbirth with their sixth child. He was left to raise the newborn and his other five children by himself on a rural farm in eastern Washington state. It was after Mrs. Dodd became an adult that she realized the strength and selflessness her father had shown in raising his children as a single parent.

The first Father’s Day was observed on June 19, 1910 in Spokane, Washington. At about the same time in various towns and cities across America, other people were beginning to celebrate a “father’s day.” In 1924, President Calvin Coolidge supported the idea of a national Father’s Day. Finally in 1966, President Lyndon Johnson signed a presidential proclamation declaring the third Sunday of June as Father’s Day.

Father’s Day, however, was not widely celebrated in the US until the mid-1930s and was not recorded in print before 1943. In Canada, the holiday gained status in the late ’40s and took hold by the early ’50s.

Enjoy your cologne or tie, guys.

Howard Richler’s latest book is Can I Have a Word With You?



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