by | Jun 20, 1999 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

Today is the final Father’s Day of the century. And in many ways, the fathers of 1899 didn’t have it as good as the fathers of today.

Then again, there were a few advantages.

For example:

In 1899, fathers prayed their children would learn English. Today, fathers pray their children will speak English.

In 1899, a father’s horsepower meant his horses. Today, it’s the size of his minivan.

In 1899, if a father put a roof over his family’s head, he was considered a big success. Today, it’s a roof, deck, pool and four-car garage. And that’s for the vacation home.

In 1899, fathers came to their teenage sons and said, “Let’s talk about the birds and the bees.” Today, teenage sons come to their fathers and say, “Dad, am I gay?”

In 1899, a father waited for the doctor to tell him when the baby arrived. Today, a father must wear a smock, know how to breathe and make sure film is in the video camera.

In 1899, fathers passed on clothing to their sons. Today, kids wouldn’t touch Dad’s clothes if they were sliding naked down an icicle.

In 1899, fathers could count on children to join the family business. Today, fathers pray their kids come home from college to teach them how to work the computer.

In 1899, fathers pined for the old country, like Romania, Italy and Russia. Today, fathers pine for the old country, like Hank Williams.

In 1899, a father smoked a pipe. If he tries that today, he gets a lecture on lip cancer.

The nuclear family

In 1899, fathers shook their children lightly and whispered, “Wake up, it’s time for school.” Today, kids shake their fathers at 4 a.m. and say, “Wake up, it’s time for hockey practice.”

In 1899, a father came home from work to find his wife and children at the supper table. Today, a father comes home to a note: “Jimmy’s at baseball/Cindy’s at gymnastics/I’m at adult-ed/pizza in fridge.”

In 1899, fathers and sons would have heart-to-heart conversations while fishing in a stream. Today, fathers pluck the headphones off their sons’ ears and shout, “WHEN YOU HAVE A MINUTE . . .”

In 1899, a father gave a pencil box for Christmas, and the kid was all smiles. Today, a father spends $800 at Toys ‘R’ Us, and the kid’s first reaction is:
“I wanted Sega!”

In 1899, if a father had breakfast in bed, it was eggs and bacon and ham and potatoes. Today, it’s Special K, soy milk, dry toast and a lecture on cholesterol.

In 1899, no one ever compared a father to a movie star because there were no movies and there were no stars. Today, kids turn to their father and say, “How come you’re not as cool as Tim Allen?”

In 1899, a Father’s Day gift would be a hand tool. Today, he’ll get a digital organizer.

In 1899, fathers said, “A man’s home is his castle.” Today, they say, “Welcome to the money pit.”

The perfect date

In 1899, fathers couldn’t wait to stop swinging their axes. Today, they can’t wait to start swinging their clubs.

In 1899, “a good day at the market” meant Father brought home feed for the horses. Today, “a good day at the market” means Dad got in early on an IPO.

In 1899, a happy meal was when Father shared funny stories around the table. Today, a happy meal is what Dad buys at McDonald’s.

In 1899, a father was involved if he spanked the kid now and then. Today, a father’s not involved unless he coaches Little League and organizes Boy Scouts and car pools.

In 1899, when fathers entered the room, children often rose to attention. Today, kids glance up and grunt, “Dad, you’re invading my space.”

In 1899, fathers chose their daughters’ suitors, and threatened them with shotguns if the girl came home late. Today, fathers break the ice by saying,
“So …how long you had that earring?”

In 1899, fathers pined for the old school, which meant a one-room, red-brick building. Today, fathers pine for the old school, which means Dr. J.

In 1899, fathers were never truly appreciated.

In 1999, little has changed.

So Happy Father’s Day, dads.

The dog needs to go out.

MITCH ALBOM can be reached at 313-223-4581 or albom@freepress.com. You can catch “Albom in the Afternoon” 3-6 p.m. weekdays and “Monday Sports Albom” 6:30-8 p.m. Mondays on WJR-AM (760).


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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