Each June, the National Father’s Day Council honors a few exemplary men whose selfless dedication, personal sacrifice and cultural impact rise above the well-intentioned efforts of the average father and serve as benchmarks against which we workaday dads can measure ourselves in the coming year.
And for the past 72 spring seasons, the “Father of the Year” accolade has been accompanied by a gala celebration and a coveted silver statuette awarded to men who are “contemporary lifestyle leaders … dedicated to family, citizenship, charity, civility, responsibility and reverence.”
So it was no surprise this week that William Jefferson Clinton — a contemporary lifestyle leader if ever there was one — was finally inducted into that pantheon of paternal personages which had already enshrined the likes of Eddie Fisher, Bing Crosby, Larry King and Hulk Hogan.
What was surprising is that it took so long to recognize this fabled father who, as Chelsea Clinton nostalgically recalled in her introductory speech, “told me the importance of telling the truth about things,” presumably sometime after 1998.
Of course, one can question the Council’s honoring of Bill Clinton, and his remarkably poor taste in accepting it, but neither are impeachable offenses, especially considering that his middle namesake was probably more of a founding father than we’ll ever know, broadcasting his genetic joy more liberally than possibly any other U.S. president and, like every good Democrat, without regard to race, color, creed or country of origin.
Still, Clinton brought a special brand of populism to philandering which made it no longer the purview of the privileged, or a gifting solely to the beautiful.
Laboring in obscurity for years before he bore the mantle of chief executive, his was a tireless quest to form a more perfect union with Americans from all walks and stations of life, and all levels of attractiveness, garnering him predictable contempt from Northeastern elites, but preparing him for the toughest job he’ll ever love: being the Father of the Year we most deserve.
After all, in a nation where more than 40% of children are now born to unwed mothers, and where the divorce rate is close to 50%, even Clinton — who is still legally married and whose wife and child speak highly of him in public — has become something of an aspirational figure over the years — a sexual Siddhartha on a journey of redemption and enlightenment.
While his dalliances may disqualify him as the fifteenth Dalai Lama — he has been completely reincarnated by the media, with Chris Matthews proudly adding “President of the World” to his “Father of the Year” title.
And who were we expecting in 2013, anyway? Joel Osteen? Jim Bob Duggar? Mitt Romney with his five sons?
Maybe not, but comedienne Rita Rudner says that she, for one, still expects the most traditional marriage possible, confessing to being a hopeless romantic in her search for the right husband and father.
Even on a first date, halfway through dinner, she can’t help thinking to herself, “Is this the man I want my children to spend their weekends with?”
In fact, millions of single dads will spend another awkward Father’s Day weekend this year feigning delight over the cheap cards and measly gifts bought by their ex-wives for the kids to bring.
And, like every other weekend, these dads will choose between some lousy choices, as they try to live down their original lousy choice at that fateful happy hour a few years back.
But that’s okay.
The Father’s Day Council — whose birth name was the New York Associated Men’s Wear Retailers — had the foresight to anticipate their plight. In a masterstroke of benevolence, they made provision for every father’s peace of mind — turning a potential weekend of sackcloth, ashes, and self-loathing into a few glorious days of mindless, blissful diversion-on-demand.
They did it by inventing the Father’s Day gift, and with it, permission to feel, once again, the thrill of a boyhood toy, whether it’s an iPad commode caddy, a digital tie rack, a NASA nose hair trimmer, a night-vision camera watch, a Bluetooth shower speaker, a solar-powered neck massager or, when the novelty starts to wear off, a vodka-dispensing golf bag.
As for the gift that keeps on giving, though, there’s only one that fits the Bill. Clinton himself.
Just like this manufactured holiday, he’ll be here year after year, reminding us that if we just forget the past, ask forgiveness, and move on like nothing ever happened, any dad, no matter what he’s been through, can be “Father of the Year” again someday to someone.
Timothy Philen is the author of Harper&Row/Lippincott’s “You CAN Run Away From It!” a satirical indictment of American pop psychology. He is currently at work on a latter-day “Walden,” a collection of essays on post-modern American culture.