The following statement will either be completely obvious or send you into a state of rushed panic: Father's Day is upon us. Yes, the day when we pay homage to the dads and dad figures in our lives. Despite the fact that the holiday rose to national prominence as a result of hardcore campaigning my menswear retailers (no, really), even my cynical self feels like at worst it's silly and at its best it's a way to show our fathers, grandfathers, and the fathers of our children that we love them. How can that be so bad?
Well, okay, maybe one thing about the whole kerfuffle is really bad: Those cards. When can we universally agree that the schmaltzy, pastel nightmare of greeting card Father's Day poetry has no place in polite society? Especially when there are so many amazing actual poems by actual poets about fathers out there. Admittedly, there are probably more poems about bad/scary fathers than good ones. Sylvia Plath's Daddy, for example, isn't exactly something you stitch onto a pillow and give to pops. But there are plenty of heartfelt, touching poems out there to maybe make dad shed a tear...Or read it over look up at you and say, "What the hell is this? Is this supposed to be a poem? It doesn't rhyme." (There are no guarantees here.)
So instead of hastily running to the card aisle of the CVS on the way to your parents' house this year (no judgement: we've all been there), I'd highly suggest checking out poets.org for all your Father's Day poetry needs. (Or really any poetry needs, it's a fantastic site.) I've gathered some of my favorites below...
Whose Mouth Do I Speak With by Suzanne Rancourt
I can remember my father bringing home spruce gum.
He worked in the woods and filled his pocketswith golden chunks of pitch.For his childrenhe provided this special sacramentand we'd gather at his feet, around his legs,bumping his lunchbox, and his empty thermos rattled inside.Our skin would stick to Daddy's gluey clothingand we'd smell like Mumma's Pine Sol.We had no money for store bought gumbut that's all right.The spruce gumwas so close to chewing amberas though in our mouths we held the eyes of Coyoteand how many other children had fathersthat placed on their innocent, anxious tonguethe blood of a tree?
For the hardworking dad whose love language is "acts of service"
Yesterday by W.S. Merwin
My friend says I was not a good son
I say yes I understandhe says I did not goto see my parents very often you knowand I say yes I knoweven when I was living in the same city he sysmaybe I would go there oncea month or maybe even lessI say oh yeshe says the last time I went to see my fatherI say the last time I saw my fatherhe says the last time I saw my fatherhe was asking me about my lifehow I was making out and hewent into the next roomto get something to give meoh I sayfeeling again the coldof my father’s hand the last timehe says and my father turnedin the doorway and saw melook at my wristwatch and hesaid you know I would like you to stayand talk with meoh yes I saybut if you are busy he saidI don’t want you to feel that youhave tojust because I’m hereI say nothinghe says my fathersaid maybeyou have important work you are doingor maybe you should be seeingsomebody I don’t want to keep youI look out the windowmy friend is older than I amhe says and I told my father it was soand I got up and left him thenyou knowthough there was nowhere I had to goand nothing I had to do
Danse Russe by William Carlos Williams
My Father's Hats by Mark Irwin
My Father On His Shield by Walt McDonald
For the fathers who have made the ultimate sacrifice.Shiny as wax, the cracked veneer Scotch-tapedand brittle. I can’t bring my father back.Legs crossed, he sits there brashwith a private’s stripe, a world awayfrom the war they would ship him towithin days. Cannons flank his faceand banners above him like the flagmy mother kept on the mantel, folded tight,white stars sharp-pointed on a field of blue.I remember his fists, the iron he pounded,five-pound hammer ringing steel,the frame he made for a sled that winterbefore the war. I remember the rope in his fistaround my chest, his other fistshoving the snow, and downhill we dived,his boots by my boots on the tongue,pines whishing by, ice in my eyes, blinkingand squealing. I remember the troop train,steam billowing like a smoke screen.I remember wrecking the sled weeks laterand pounding to beat the iron flat,but it stayed there bentand stacked in the barn by the anvil,and I can’t bring him back.
And for those for whom Father's Day is difficult, Father Outside by Nick Flynn is for the fathers who disappoint, and sometimes it helps to read a poem to know you're not alone in your feelings...
So there you have it. Go ahead and jot one of those down on a folded piece of construction paper and hand it to dad. He'll thank you...or maybe not, if he's not a poetry guy. In that case, just get him a tie as well.