Hermione Eyre: Sorry, Dad, for being an undutiful daughter

The Romans didn't need a designated father's day because arguably every day was father's day
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The Independent Online

Father's Day, which is tomorrow (a foolish beginning; already I have lost some 20 per cent of you, who have let out an exclamation of anguished recollection, dropped this page, and headed out to buy novelty golf balls), is more widely observed in this country every year. Today, paper tributes are already in the post. Tomorrow, paragliding centres will be jammed with anxious-looking men.

This year, according to Minitel, the volume of Father's Day cards we send will exceed Valentine's Day - oops, there go another 20 per cent of you, the ones who didn't think they could be bothered but ultimately respond to peer pressure. Come back! Forget it, you've missed the last post, and to be honest, he'd never have wanted that tie anyway. Stay and ruminate with me instead about what this whole fatherly fandango means - and how to opt out of it.

I adore my father but I have never recognised Father's Day and never will. Tomorrow morning, when everyone is out blithely building balsawood boats with dad, I will be turning over and going back to sleep. Neglect like this takes willpower. Here are my tips for being an undutiful daughter.

1) Be assured of this: if you have forgotten, he has forgotten. It would be a crashing irony if the male brain, so good at disremembering birthdays, anniversaries and the like, were to remember only this calendar festival. That said, irony does sometimes crash, particularly when there is a Sunday lunch at stake.

2) Remember, Father's Day is a newcomer to the feast, a copycat festival designed to imitate Mother's Day. Beginning in the early 1900s it was formally recognised in the US under Nixon, making it a time-honoured tradition going back through the mists of time to roughly the same period as men first walked on the moon. There are many conflicting tales about who actually invented Father's Day. Some say it was Sonora Smart Dodd, of Washington, who was moved to inaugurate the first Father's Day in memory of her dear father who had recently died after bringing up six children singlehandedly. If this story melts your heart, good for you. You are probably going skateboarding with your dad tomorrow. Enjoy!

3) It is a truism to reject Father's Day on the grounds that it is just a vehicle for commercialism. But truisms, though hackneyed, are true. Besides Sonora Smart Dodd, there are some other figures credited with inventing Father's Day. These include one Honoria Clinton, daughter of the greetings card magnate, who established the tradition in 1904 (quite a feat, given she was only four). It is also posited that a Father's Day pioneer was Adolf Dunhill, a luxury goods merchant who had a large stockpile of silver hip flasks he wanted to shift. First he founded Alcoholics on the Move Day, then English Milord Impersonator Day, before hitting on the winning formula and rolling all the way to the bank. (Changing his name to Alfred also helped.)

4) Mixing gender politics and family gatherings is not generally considered a good idea, but let's try it anyway. Mother's Day dates back to the Roman festival of Matronalia. Why was there never a Patronalia? Perhaps the Romans didn't need a designated Fathers' Day because arguably, there in the heart of the patriarchal world, every day was father's day. Some say society is still this way. Note to self: promote Father's Day wholeheartedly once the gender pay gap has been reversed.

5) It is just so easy to get it wrong with fathers, presents-wise. Scales, cholesterol testing equipment and bottles of Grecian 2000 often do not make dad happy, however kindly meant. You can invest a framed, hand-drawn calligraphic print of Sylvia Plath's poem "Daddy", and get no thanks. A copy of Sophocles' Electra never goes down well either, weirdly.

6) Which brings us to the question of father-daughter dynamics. Filial love can be deep and delicate at once, and it is often less easily expressed than love for a mother, though no less strong. (For a brilliant portrait of a tacit, deeply felt yet distant father-daughter relationship, see Esther Freud's new novel Love Falls. Could also make a good Father's Day present, if they're all out of The Wild Duck.)

It is generally easier to be demonstrative with mothers than with fathers; the whole point of Father's Day, you could say, is that it tries to redress this natural imbalance by forcing your love into the open. But I for one think forcing is for rhubarb, not for love. The whole Father's Day lexicon of hearts and flowers risks embarrassing everyone concerned. I would rather be British and call him "Sir".

Finally, If you feel a pang of anxiety that your father might (oh horrors) be looking out for a card today that will never arrive, content yourself by thinking of King Lear. Goneril and Regan are bubbling over with loving words, but aren't very helpful later on when he could really do with some sheltered accommodation. Cordelia, on the other hand, has the motto "Love, and be silent". That will do for me. And I can always send him a text message.

h.eyre@independent.co.uk

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