Jessica Helfand | Essays

A Day for Fathers

Helfand and Katz, Philadelphia. Snapshot of the front window, June 1953

As a child, I was always perplexed by Father’s Day and Mother’s Day. Why, I wondered, wasn’t there a Children's Day? 

When I posed this query (which I did with what I can only imagine was a rather annoying frequency) my parents always came back with the same reply.

“Every day is Children's Day!” they’d say. 

I wondered, then, why there was no demonstrable evidence on the greeting card rack? Since my grandfather owned a drugstore, the greeting card display was an important family ritual for us. In hindsight, I think this may have been a comparatively early introduction to graphic design and typography. Colorful, magical, a contraption that rotated, blooming with pictures and words—a visual delight to any little person even if reading and judgment would come, of course, much later. (My sister, four years older than me, was once escorted to the drugstore by our father where she got to pick out a Mother's Day card. And she did. “You’ve Been Like A Mother to Me!” it read.)

Only yesterday I came upon the photo above, taken many years before I was born. The photographer remains unknown, but the man in the white coat, with his hand on his hip, was Jack Katz —my grandfather's business partner– who died a few days before I was born and for whom I am named. The rest of the photograph is rather cryptic: bright strips of fluorescent lights hanging from the ceiling on the inside; a proscenium-like frame of horizontal bricks on the outside; the blur of reflected trees cascading over the big glass window; and Jack in that casual pose, chatting with a customer whose face we cannot see.  

And then there is that little sign — father’s day — funky baseline, all lowercase, goofy and happy and celebratory. Pure, vintage 50’s. 

Under the photo itself, above the scalloped edge that was a visual hallmark of that era, lies the date: June 1953,  the year my children’s father was born. He died late last year, four days before Christmas—another holiday marked by greeting cards which were in abundance everywhere in those last, dark days of the year. Fathers, it seems to me, should be remembered always, not only when Hallmark tells us to do so. At least that's what I will tell my children, if they ask. Every day, I’ll tell them, is Father's Day.

Comments [3]

The consistency of the "Every day is Children's Day!" answer is truly remarkable. It never fails. I remember as a kid wondering how all the adults in the entire world were able to coordinate their response.

My thoughts are with you and Fiona and Malcolm on this particular Father's Day. Your last paragraph is beautiful.

Michael Bierut

Thinking of you and your children and sending love, dear Jessica.
Debbie Millman

Children's Day is celebrated in India on 14th every November.
Rusty Dylan

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