Dad Chores

     Father’s Day was not much of an occasion among postcard publishers.  It started to be celebrated in the United States around 1910, which was right in the first Golden Age for postcards, but as a holiday it took a long while to catch on.  Predictably, like Mother’s Day, it didn’t really get a foothold until certain businessmen realized “Hey, we can SELL things on a holiday like that”, and once that started, well, there was even more resistance than before.  But the business interests eventually overcame the objections (the founder of Mother’s Day NEVER forgave them, though they were so grateful that some got together and paid her expenses in old age.)  Perhaps also predictably, it was the florists who really pushed Mother’s Day, and necktie manufacturers who were behind the acceptance of father’s Day.

     But if the postcards don’t reflect the holiday, publishers were not blind to the existence of mothers and fathers.  Like children, parents serve a number of roles, and it is with one of the major roles of fathers we are going to occupy ourselves today.  The spanking of children, which we will discuss some time I want to get arrested, was handled, in a majority of cards, by mothers, with teachers and fathers coming in a distant second.  Pushing babies in buggies or strollers seems to have been assigned primarily to fathers, though mothers take it up more and more as the twentieth century goes on.  Puns involving baby carriages form a significant subgenre.

     But for sheer comedic value, the postcard publishers adored the hapless father trying to calm a crying baby.  This is an extension of the “male hopeless at domestic chores” theme in comedy, which goes back to the Middle Ages.  It is clear, in these cases, that Dad felt his role in raising children should be limited to encouraging his wife and delivering useful and educational homilies to the tykes once they were old enough to talk.  He has no idea what to do with them when they’re just old enough to squawk.

     It is clear in some cases that Papa had no idea he was signing up for this duty.

     The theme they liked best, though, was Dad taking care of his infant progeny in the middle of the night, preferably in a scene which shows his mother fast asleep.

     Even if Mom was a female impersonator (found especially in British treatments of the theme), hapless Dad gets the job in the middle of the night so Mom can do it all day tomorrow while he escapes to the office.

     In a remarkable number of cases, the cartoonist has made things even more entertaining by saddling Daddy with twins.  I doubt that multiple births were any more common then than they are today: it weas just funnier to see Daddy with his arms full, assailed from both sides.  (There are also numerous cards in which a new father, greeting his infant offspring, is dismayed to find his wife has presented him with triplets.  But that’s a whole nother blog.)

     We are invited to sympathize, if we like, or simply guffaw at Pop, whose has given up the joys of staying up late as a bachelor to stay up late with his twins.

     This chap, for example, is making a reference to his days in the army as he exhibits the thrilling exploits demanded of Pappy: balancing two bawling infants while warming their formula over a small heater in the bedroom.  It is clear that if you asked him about it right now, he’d say the Army was easier.

     In the end, however, it is all regarded as just one of the minor hardships in the great work of creating offspring who will carry on your lineage, your legacy, and, well, your looks.  (Study these twins: they have clearly inherited their father’s face, even to his middle-aged receding hairline and paternal scowl.)

     Here’s to all those Fathers out there!  May you get really nice neckties from the twins.

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