Don Piepenbring in The Paris Review:
When you’re living in a patriarchy, every day is Father’s Day. For millennia fathers got by without such a day, looting and pillaging and reigning with such impunity in their workaday dad lives that to set aside a special occasion for it seemed like gilding the lily. But the powerful never tire of celebrating themselves, and when the dads saw that mothers had a day of their own, they became angry. (Angrier, I should say—dads, as a class, have always been hotheads.) Feeling unappreciated, they began to abuse their already capacious tendencies for pride, covetousness, lust, anger, gluttony, envy, and sloth. They would traipse around their homes with their potbellies hanging out of ill-fitting WORLD’S #1 DAD T-shirts, hoping to be noticed. To appease the dads and curb the worst impulses of their droit du seigneur, greeting-card companies some years ago brokered a “Father’s Day,” on which the dads consented to have their rings kissed by family members and to delight in an array of fun new gadgets and scotches presented to them at beery ceremonial barbecues. In exchange, the dads agreed to try to take an active interest in their children’s lives every once and a while, and to keep the drinking to weekends. They now pretend not to notice their cultural senescence, and chuckle agreeably when commercials depict them as primitive morons.
A little-known Father’s Day bylaw, legal scholars have argued, makes it possible for you to give your father something he does not actually want—he is powerless to protest, since by obligation he has to “enjoy” his “special day.” Short fiction is one such thing, generally. Dads are not so keen on it. (There are exceptions, of course, but these tend to be the same dads who say they don’t want “a big to-do” on Father’s Day.) If you want to knock your old man around a little bit, try reading him one of these short stories in lieu of giving him an Apple Watch or whatever. He might just blow his stack!
Benjamin Percy, “Refresh, Refresh,” 2005
My father wore steel-toed boots, Carhartt jeans, and a T-shirt advertising some place he had traveled, maybe Yellowstone or Seattle. He looked like someone you might see shopping for motor oil at Bi-Mart. To hide his receding hairline he wore a John Deere cap that laid a shadow across his face. His brown eyes blinked above a considerable nose underlined by a gray mustache. Like me, my father was short and squat, a bulldog. His belly was a swollen bag and his shoulders were broad, good for carrying me during parades and at fairs when I was younger. He laughed a lot.