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A Few Examples of Dads’ Traditions

Two men play accordions and one man plays a tin whistle.

Billy McComiskey (right) performing Irish music at the Library of Congress with his sons Mikey McComiskey (left) and Patrick McComiskey (center) in 2016. Library of Congress photo by Shawn Miller.

A celebration of fathers and fatherhood took a long time to be established as a nation-wide observance.  Mother’s Day was being locally observed as it was being promoted in the 19th and early 20th century, and became a regular holiday in May in 1914 by presidential proclamation. Father’s Day was locally celebrated around the country on different days. St. Joseph’s Day, on March 19 is the traditional day to celebrate fatherhood among Catholics. Protestant churches were also inspired to hold local services in honor of fathers on various days, especially as Mother’s Day became popular.  Senora Scott Dodd called for a regular Father’s Day observance and helped organize one at a YMCA in Spokane, Washington, on the third Sunday in June  in 1910. Several congressional proposals for a national day to honor fathers were made, beginning in 1913. Harry C. Meek was a great promoter of the idea of a national Father’s Day on the third Sunday in June, beginning in 1915. Lyndon Johnson signed a presidential proclamation recognizing Father’s Day on the third Sunday in June in 1966. A bill creating a permanent Father’s Day was signed into law by President Richard Nixon in 1972 (Public Law 92-278 PDF).

Fathers, just like mothers, are keepers of folklore passed on to children. The tellers of jokes, riddles, and stories, they also sing lullabies to their babies and entertain older children with songs. These are just a few examples from the American Folklife Center’s Archive:

Perhaps the oldest lullaby we have is Lebanese and thought to be about an incident that occurred the 14th century. It tells the story of a kidnapped young girl who is later recovered by her parents. Made a servant caring for an infant, she sings of her sad story, a song that helps her family find her. The song is performed here by Nicholas Debs, in Arabic, recorded by Robert Cook, Robert Cornwall, and Lillian Stedman in Florida in 1940: “Ughniyah li al-Atfal.” Nicholas Debs immigrated to the United States in 1920.

For an English language example of a lullaby, here is John Lowry Goree, an African American from Houston, Texas. He sang this version of a familiar song, “All the Pretty Little Ponies” for John and Ruby Lomax in 1939.

There are a lot of songs sung for children that started out as something else. “Play party” songs were for parties or dances often organized by Churches to provide a chaperoned environment for young single adults to socialize. Many songs from those events became songs for young children, such as school or camp songs. An example is the “Crawdad,” which entered oral tradition in the American South and has many versions among different ethnic groups. This African American  version is sung by Leroy Martin and a group of unidentified men, also for the Lomaxes in 1939.

In the American Folklife Center’s archives we find that not only did dads often sing funny songs, like “Crawdad,” they also told funny stories. This is a recording made by Stetson Kennedy of Evelio Andux telling a story in Spanish about “Miss Martinez Cockroach and Mr. Perez Mouse” in Ybor City, a Cuban settlement now part of Tampa, Florida, in 1939.  The story is of an unlikely courtship with a tragic ending. Mr. Mouse dies suddenly after taking a sniff of a stew prepared by Miss Cockroach.  Kennedy  took the opportunity to record Evelia Andux, Mr. Andux’s 11 year-old daughter, telling the same story. Her version is a little different. Traditions passed on from father to child might be expected to be performed as taught or, as in the stories above, perhaps a good bit of leeway is allowed for the next generation to perform it their way.

Here is a performance by accordionist Billy McComiskey with nieces Angela Fee and Catriona Fee, his sons Mikey McComiskey and Patrick McComiskey, with Myron Bretholz and Josh Dukes, at the Library of Congress, June 28, 2016.  Billy McComiskey is both an award-winning performer of traditional Irish music and a composer, so both holding with tradition and allowing for innovation are part of what he has to pass on to family members and others.[1] (This video is also on YouTube.)

Billy also sat down for an oral history interview with his middle son, Sean, who explained the importance of Billy’s teachings for his own life and musical career.  You can watch that video at this link on loc.gov, or this link on YouTube.

Three men and a woman on stage in Native American dress.

Steve LaRance with his nephew, Quotsvenma Denipah-Cook, his niece Shade Phea Young, and his son Nakotah LaRance at the Library of Congress, 2016. Library of Congress photo by Stephen Winick.

In this next video Steve LaRance and his son Nakotah demonstrate their collaboration between generations. When Steve saw that his son passionately wanted to learn hoop dancing at a very early age, he helped him to find an excellent teacher, Derrick  Suwaima Davis, in their Arizona Hopi community. You will notice that Nakotah has some creative ideas of how traditional hoop dancing can be updated for another generation in more than one style. Steve continued to be part of his son’s remarkable performing career, and here he acts as emcee, drums, and plays the flute.  The father and son helped found a school for hoop dancers in Arizona, Pueblo of Pojoaque Youth Hoop Dancers, where Nakotah is a master instructor.  They perform with Steve LaRance’s granddaughter Shade Phea Young and nephew Quotsvenma Denipah-Cook who are students at the school. (You can find the video embedded below at this link on loc.gov and on YouTube.)

Note

  1. The most detailed biography of Billy McComiskey currently available online is Stephen Winick’s 2016 article in Folklife Today.

Resources

Latina Storyteller Oral History : Carmen Agra Deedy and Karla Campillo-Soto, April 2016 (video, 00:49:04. Also on YouTube). The storytellers talk about their families with folklorist Stephen Winick in this oral history, including Carmen Agra Deedy talking about the effect of her father’s decision to  learn to read as an adult at about 37 minutes into the interview.

Hall, Stephanie. “Some Songs for Mother’s Day,” Folklife Today, May 11, 2014.

Tommy Sands with Moya and Fionan Sands in Concert, October 2008 (video, 01:10:17).  This is the Northern Irish activist, singer, songwriter, and author Tommy Sands with his son and daughter performing at the Library of Congress.

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