Reverend Furrer will be joined by other staff members with a potpourri of items worth celebrating. We will celebrate the longest day of the year, and remember our dads and, for some, being a dad.
Another Year Around the Sun
I want to talk about two, somewhat intertwined things: Father’s Day (today) and the Summer Solstice (yesterday afternoon). It’s also traditionally the last worship before the annual Unitarian Universalist General Assembly and would-be delegates are often anxious to get out of town—like last year at this time when we sent over 30 people to General Assembly in Spokane. But this year, due to the pandemic, General Assembly is completely virtual and, Amanda Strombom, Amélie Heise, Grace Colton, and Amanda Uluhan are the only delegates signed up. They plan to share some of G.A.’s excitement and messages at the service two weeks from today on July 5.
As for the solstice, it is the longest day and shortest night of the year. In the Northern Hemisphere it takes place between June 20 and 22, depending on the year. Astronomically speaking, it’s the point where the sun is at its highest point in the sky, directly above the Tropic of Cancer. Due to the earth’s 23.4 degree tilt on its axis as it orbits the sun, that means it’s the longest day of the year for everywhere north of the Tropic of Cancer—which includes us here in Washington State. You’d think that that would mean it was the hottest day, too, but that will be in about another three to five weeks. Why? Because the oceans heat up and cool down more slowly than the land in reaction to the sun’s rays. And since the ocean makes up seven-tenths of earth’s surface, they have a huge impact on the seasons—and everything else.
The summer solstice has held significance for people from time immemorial. Our forebears relied on knowing the proper position of the sun for planting and the performance of other weather-dependent tasks. Celebrations included herb and flower-laden votaries singing chants and offering supplications to the spirits–spirits they believed were separated from us by the filmiest of veils—made even flimsier and more gossamer on special astrological occasions like the solstice. Devotees propitiated spirits with their offerings. Though we have no written records there are many megalithic monuments in the world, the largest and most well-known being Stonehenge. Research shows that the site has continuously evolved over a period of 10,000+ years. The structure we call “Stonehenge” was built between four and five thousand years ago, and was itself part of an even bigger monument that was fifteen times bigger than what we see still standing on the England’s Salisbury Plain.
Modern day Wiccan practitioners like Starhawk, Diane Baker, and Anne Hill who wrote our Children’s Story, focus a lot on how Stonehenge and other such places—such as New Mexico’s Chaco Canyon—were sacred aligning instruments to help the whole community get in synch with the rhythms of Nature, the Unitary and Primary Program, the silent pulse at the Heart of Life. And clearly this was part of what was going on there, for sure. But archeologists now also believe that the monument marks “the unification of Britain,” a point when people across the island worked together on a centuries long collective project that brought people together. Just the work itself, requiring people from across the island to literally all pull together, would have been an act of unification. And it seems to have done just that. In the modern era pausing to celebrate the overarching rhythms of nature can have an equally unifying effect. So much sunlight! Warm, balmy weather! How great is that!
* * *
Fatherhood has a long history. The only unchanging aspect is the biological one; all else is fluid. No two men father in the same way. Likewise no two cultures or historical epochs. No less than any other aspects of human experience, fatherhood bends with cultural fashion and the passage of time.
Still, the institution of fatherhood—like all human institutions—can be subject to historical study. Shared elements of purpose, of practice, and of emotional style there are and always have been.
A vast gulf of change separates the early American fathers from their counterparts today. The differences embrace underlying goals and values, prescribed methods of practice, styles of personal interaction, and the larger configuration of domestic life, which was vastly different for people of different stations. But despite the many differences a core of foci and attributes seem to emerge in all times and places throughout American history—images and experiences of our own fathers, and of ourselves as fathers, that link us to our forebears and to those around us,
While all of us are born with an intimate knowledge of our mother—having lived in her body, knowing her heartbeat, and becoming familiar with her gait, her style of movement, and her various swings of mood for about nine months—our fathers are at first strangers. All knowledge of the father comes after our birth.
There’s a lot we could say about some of the traditional roles fathers have played in the lives of their children: father as Guidance Counselor, Pedagogue, Moral Overseer, Psychologist and much more. I think next June I will try lining up a bunch of folks to share how their dads performed these various rolls in their lives. But my goal is simpler today: holding up 1 simple idea: THE RETURN OF THE FATHERS.
If you go back five or six generations, almost all our ancestors lived on or near the land. The vast majority of 17th and 18th century fathers were tillers of the earth—either theirs or their overseers. The work of husbandry, basically, is to plant and nurture seeds. Hence, bringing to successful maturity one’s progeny was seen in this context. Among those privileged to own the land they labored upon, a successful farm reflected credit upon the owner, so children—commonly described by fathers at this time as “my hope” or “my consolation”—were seen as continuing a man’s accomplishments, indeed his very character, into the future…
Of those who weren’t farmers, all but a handful were artisans and tradesmen. In either case all work was centered in and around the family home and invariably the children were directly involved. From an early age boys and girls began to assist their fathers around the farm or shop. This is rarely true today.
Beginning about 200 years ago, and increasingly thereafter, men were drawn out of their families and toward income-producing work. Of course fathers had always been involved in the provision of goods and services to their families, but earlier such activity was embedded in a larger matrix of domestic sharing. With modernization, work became “differentiated” as the chief, if not exclusive power of adult men and the central activity of fatherhood was sited outside one’s immediate household. Being fully a father meant being separated from one’s children for a considerable part of each working day. But this dynamic has turned around in my adult lifetime. More and more dads are more and more involved in their children’s lives. The transformation of fatherhood continues. For history is never static. It is a seamless, intricate web.
Three major themes in contemporary family life, recently begun and still in progress deserve special notice. As a result of these trends, the vast gulf between the experiences of men and women, anchored in close to two centuries of our history, has finally begun to close. The first of these trends is the entry of women—most strikingly of married women with small children—into the working world outside the home. The second current trend changing the face of fatherhood is the growing incidence of divorce and thus single parenthood—and even, in some cases—single fatherhood. Finally, a trend that’s become statistically noticeable within the last couple of decades: gay men who decide to adopt or engage a surrogate mother to have and raise children. A fourth development, comparatively new, has been the recognition of self-identified trans fathers, including both trans men and trans women.
On this day—Father’s Day—we celebrate them all. Hooray for dads! Hooray for the Summer solstice!
Hooray and Amen!