As Father’s Day again rolls around, this year the Bowers Blog attempts to offer a rare bit of insight into some of the more common variants of fathers endemic to North America. Rarely studied for their bright colors or plumage (Hawaiian shirts aside) fathers are perhaps best-known for some of their trademark calls; “dont-touch-the-thermo-stat,” “ask-your-mom,” and the somewhat variable “when-I-was-your-age…” are among the three best-known. Searching the museum’s collections, we have produced a selection of objects which illustrates just some of the different forms of father. Seeing as most have been able to observe at least one specimen closely since childhood, readers should recognize one or more of the below classifications.
The Outdoorsy Father
Fathers have a reputation for enjoying various degrees of outdoorsiness. Your standard father might only rarely demonstrate a love of the outdoors, excitedly waking the family up at 4:00 am to “beat the rush” for the annual camping trip. A true outdoorsy father, however, is rarely found indoors on the weekends, instead preferring hiking, fishing, or hunting trips. The dapper gent in this print may seem oddly dressed for a man returning from an afternoon’s hunt. All the same, he clearly feels most connected to his family after having taken down a bevy of pheasants. Damage to the print has made portions of the caption unreadable, but the large letters beneath this early 19th century London print spell out “Happiness”—presumably the family’s at the return of this outdoorsy father.
The Tormented Father
It is only for the sake of completeness that we have included this variant. Born of a variety of rough circumstances, the father depicted more in the lyrics of Frank Dumont and L.E. Hicks’s “Papa Don’t Stay Late!” than in the songbook’s illustration is a tormented one. The song’s words are succinctly summarized in a note on the book’s first page: a girl’s mother is dying and she has braved a winter’s journey to the local watering hole to tell her father that it is time to come home. Through the verses he remains unmoved.
The Peacekeeping and Overprotective Fathers
Two of a group of five stereopticon views illustrate vastly different fathers. The first of these “dads,” as they are sometimes known, is depicted as pleading with either his wife or—following his sightline and finding that it lands nowhere in particular—the heavens for his daughter’s mother to cease attacking her own progeny with a weaponized muff. Though well intentioned this variety of father appears to be ineffective at conflict resolution. The other stereopticon view shows a young couple’s kiss being terminated by a father who has a hand raised threateningly. Both 1899 prints by Strohmeyer and Wyman are from a longer series showing a couple smooching goodnight, the young man’s parents coming home early, and the resulting tribulation. Capturing all the whimsy and madness of contemporary stock photography, this series shows that many types of father have evolved little over the past century.
The Religious Father
Perhaps an outlier in this selection, the ministerial father is still addressed here as an honorable mention, titled as such for being the symbolic head of their flock. Father Junipero Serra on the left was the Franciscan friar who worked to set up the first nine of California’s twenty-one missions. Though considered kind during his lifetime, he has since earned a notorious reputation for his cruel treatment of Native Californians. Father Saint John O’Sullivan is another famous Californian father. His most famous work, Capistrano Nights, tells stories related to the mission beginning with its founding by Father Junipero Serra. He has remained well-regarded for his efforts in the early years of the 20th century to restore Mission San Juan Capistrano.
The Wonderful Father
While birdwatching is best-complemented with a portable and powerful pair of binoculars, it could be said that father-watching is optimally paired with rose-colored glasses. The truth of the matter is that fathers are as much Homo sapiens as they are a distinct subspecies of their own, and as such might fall into both the positive and negative categories above. But most all fathers are at least some part wonderful. When one thinks back upon childhood observations of their “dad,” it is the hope of this writer that most recall fond memories like this 1901 beach day at the Balboa Peninsula. The photograph was a memento that the donor carried with her through her life, making the following maxim clear: the best father is always one’s own.
Text and images may be under copyright. Please contact Collection Department for permission to use. References are available on request. Information subject to change upon further research.
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