AUGUST, traditionally a time for vacations, is a good month to adopt a ``Family Day'' in the United States. In Arizona and Michigan, the first Sunday in August is already set aside by statute for that purpose, and Kiwanis International recognizes Aug. 2 as Family Day. And in 1972 and again from 1976 through 1982 a presidential proclamation recognized Thanksgiving Week as a time to honor the American family. A Family Day would be in keeping with what Anna Jarvis had in mind at the turn of the 20th century when she successfully sought legislation for Mother's Day. She had in mind a low-key, family-centered celebration.
Unfortunately, Mother's Day soon became commercialized by florists, greeting card companies, and confectioners, against whom Miss Jarvis campaigned unsuccessfully. ``I want to tell you,'' she said as she crashed a confectioners' convention in 1923, ``that you are using a beautiful idea as a means of profiteering.''
Children nowadays have civil rights, fathers have rights, as do mothers. The family, however, appears to have none, despite the fact that no civilization has fared well without a strong family system or a comprehensive welfare system to take the family's place. And when one considers that the typical American poverty victim today is a child, the case for strengthening the family combines both rational and humane reasons.
Family Day would be more difficult to commercialize than Mother's Day or Father's Day. Like Thanksgiving, Family Day would not lend itself to gift-giving, because it honors a unit rather than its constituent parts.
To be sure, Family Day would not be an easy commemorative day to observe in a nation where divorce and separation typify increasing numbers of parents and children. But its purpose would be as much preventive maintenance as it would be a celebration. Family life is too often taken for granted, with children and parents often passing each other like ships in the night. And so pausing to take special note of the family's blessings could infuse renewed appreciation - perhaps so much that every day becomes a special day for families.
Thomas V. DiBacco is a historian at the American University.