As it stands, it’s fairly well-settled that in a straight-up contest between the respective days we set aside for them, Mom has Dad beat by a country mile.
Father’s Day being today, it’s important to mention that the stats bear this out.
Back before cell phones, when collect calls were made more often, the phone company (it was simply known as “the” phone company) once reported that while Mother’s Day was the biggest day of the year for long-distance calls, Father’s Day was tops for the most collect calls.
That’s typical child behavior: Call Mom on your dime; call Dad on his.
Comedian Bill Cosby knows about stuff like this.
Cosby observed in his book, “Fatherhood,” that, “Mothers, in fact, organize (Mother’s Day) as precisely as Patton planned an attack. They make a list of things they want, summon their children, and say, ‘Go see your father, get some money from him, and surprise me with some of these.’ ”
Now, fathers may need more PR, but the biggest reason they don’t get any is that those needing it actually want to be noticed. Yet fathers, for all of the stuff we hear about male ego, are mostly content to be seen as just guys who were there and helped, and that fatherhood is really no big deal.
Cosby had a comedy routine that outlined this shrugging veneer fathers generate. You find a discarded piece of wood, take out a pocketknife, put a nick in it and present it to your mother, he said, and she’ll cry and loudly proclaim how beautiful it is, then display it prominently.
Present the same thing to your father, Cosby said, and he’d look at it and say, “What’s this? A piece of wood? Get out of here.”
By the time you reach adulthood, Mom may have reminded you on several occasions of how many hours of labor she endured to have you, just to keep straight in your mind what you mean to her — and she’d be more than entitled to use that example.
But you would likely need a pair of pliers to get it out of Dad about how many times throughout her pregnancy he was up nights alone worried about both of you: You coming out all right with all your fingers and toes, and she, healthy and able to smile that broad, teary smile of a woman handed her baby for the first time.
That’s probably the crux of Dad’s PR problem: The iconic images of motherhood just fit better on greeting cards and on TV: Walking with a stroller, feeding and bathing and changing, pushing a swing.
Admittedly, Dad does retain a few fatherhood images for himself, such as playing catch or sitting on a dock fishing. But by the time a kid is old enough to throw and catch a hardball, how many of them really want to be seen with his dad in front of all his friends?
But what famous images do we really have of a man at the auto mall trading in his sport coupe for a crossover? Or putting in a replacement pane in the neighbor’s window because his kid’s pitching isn’t what his father thought it was?
There’s an old story — it’s not mine; it may have been Cosby’s — about a child’s father out there repeatedly tossing a football with his son, taking him to all those team practices and games through school, engaging him in dozens of conversations about football as he grows up.
Finally, as the story goes, a father’s dream is realized: His son is playing football on TV, and for the first time a camera catches the now-grown young man on the sidelines, in uniform.
He turns around, waves and smiles, looks right into the lens and says the words a father longs to hear:
To me, it takes a special kind of guy to deal with that, perhaps a bit reluctantly, but graciously and nobly.
The kind of guy who doesn’t mind that Father’s Day could use some better PR.
• Mark J. Scarp (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Tribune contributing columnist who appears on Sundays.