Moms Are cool, but can't we give Dad a little love, too?
Remember last Fathers Day when you woke up and tried to call your dad, but all of the telephone lines were busy because everyone else was calling their dad at the exact same time?
And remember later that day when you had to wait two hours at your favorite restaurant to get a seat because everyone else was taking dear ol' dad out to celebrate his day?
Neither do I.
Chances are, though, that you have faced precisely those hurdles in trying to celebrate Mothers Day.
There's no denying that Fathers Day doesn't compare in popularity to Mothers Day in this country. People tend to travel farther and spend more money on mom than on dad: A report on the website of the National Retail Federation showed that we spend on average $125 on dad on Father’s Day gifts, but $186 on mom for Mother’s Day gifts.
In 1969, Richard Spencer of Wadesboro didn't spend any money on his absentee father, but he did phone him. He immediately wished he hadn't because, he recalled, the call yielded nothing but heartache.
Oh - and a hit song that'll be remembered every third Sunday in June from here to eternity.
Spencer, who'd been musical director for Otis Redding, wrote the Grammy-winning song "Color Him Father," which he sang with his racially integrated group, The Winstons.
The song resulted directly from that telephone call to his father.
"We were playing a gig in Clearwater, Fla., backing up Curtis Mayfield & the Impressions," he told me, when he decided to call his dad.
“It was 1969. I was having really bad marital problems. It was one of those mornings I was feeling kind of bad. Even though he had rarely been there for me, I felt like I wanted to talk to my dad” that morning, he said.
So, what pearls of fatherly wisdom did Papa Spencer bestow upon his beloved son? I asked.
“I didn’t talk to him,” Spencer said, still disconsolate. “His phone was disconnected.”
The pain of not being able to reach his dad when he needed him resulted directly in his paean to Fathers Day. That same day, with pen in hand, he wrote these words on some Jack Tar Hotel stationery:
"There's a man at my house, he's so big and strong
He goes to work each day and he stays all day long.
He comes home each night, looking tired and beat
He sits down at the dinner table and has a bite to eat.
Say what you want about the song - and music snobs have said plenty, calling it cheesy and hokey, among other things - but it is one of the few songs in which dad or stepdad is the hero and not some cad.
Spencer said he'd been missing the presence of a dad before that day he got the "disconnected" phone signal. His father had been in and out of his life - mostly out. When he was a young boy, he attended a school event to which he had to wear a tie.
"My mother tied it, but she didn't know how to tie it the way a man would have," he recalled. "People laughed at it.
"I was thinking about all of that when I started to write him a letter to tell him how he'd never been there when I needed him... Halfway through, I realized I might have a song."
Spencer said that as he showered and prepared for that night's show, he found himself singing about a fictional stepfather who comes in and rescues a widowed mother and her children:
"Our real old man - he got killed in the war
And she knows she and 7 kids couldn't have got ten very far.
She said she thought that she could never love again
And then there he stood with that big wide grin.
Just as classmates had laughed at his tie in school, his bandmates laughed at the song he'd brought them.
"We were a top 40 band. It wasn't our usual style," he said.
Even the record company didn't want to release it, he said.
Fortunately for Spencer and the record company, the song was released and won a grammy for best R&B song.
For their day, mothers get heart-tuggers such as "Dear Mama" by Tupac, "I'll Always Love My Mama" by The Intruders and "Sadie" by The Spinners.
Fathers? Other than Spencer's sincere tribute, we tend to get "Daddy Could Swear, I Declare" - about a patriarch who cusses too much, "Cat's In The Cradle," about a dad who works too much and "Please Daddy, Don't Get Drunk This Christmas," about a dad who - oh, nevermind.
What say we start a new tradition of honoring and appreciating fathers as much as we do mothers?Even though fathers don't get nearly the respect or recognition that mothers receive, we can start a new tradition by doing something extra special for pops this and every Fathers Day.
Hint: I haven't met a dad yet who didn't like Golden Corral.