VOA News By Peyton Bigora

Father’s Day, a holiday typically celebrated with neighborhood barbecues, fun and family, could be limited this year as states hesitantly ease COVID-19 lockdown orders and cities cautiously reopen.  

The United States has been combatting the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 since March, bringing everyday life to a halt for most Americans. But cities and states have begun to reopen restaurants and stores over the past few weeks as well as allow larger social gatherings to occur.  

The progression of these phases, however, has not allowed normality to resume entirely as many find their Father’s Day traditions, much like Mother’s Day, limited.

Jennifer Smith, 51, spoke with VOA about celebrating Father’s Day away from her family in her hometown of Long Island, New York, for the first time since her move to Ooltewah, Tennessee.  

“I mean, we’re down here by ourselves,” Smith said about herself and her husband of 25 years, Mike. “In New York, it would have been my sister, my father, my nieces and nephews, Mike and the kids. Anyone who’s home in New York.”

Not being able to visit their family is the Smiths’ biggest disappointment about trying to celebrate this weekend. Similarly, lockdown measures got in the way when Jennifer Smith’s father flew to Tennessee to visit for an early Father’s Day.

“He got a flight, but it was not as easily available as normal,” she said. “Restaurants were open, and we had no trouble getting reservations, but most of the tourist attractions [in Chattanooga, Tennessee] that we would have liked to have taken him to were closed.”  

Luckily the Smiths’ plans for their first Tennessee Father’s Day weekend include outings that social-distancing regulations won’t impede.

“We’ll probably go out for lunch or dinner, depending on what Mike wants to do. Maybe take a ride, do something outside. Or Mike would like to just sit at home,” Smith said, laughing.  

There are some pandemic regulations still in place in her area, she said.  

Most establishments may fill their dining areas to half capacity and ensure social distancing by taping off every other barstool, using fewer tables and enforcing wearing mask for employees. Some restaurants even go so far as to limit the waitstaff coming in contact with food, and using disposable, paper menus.

Tennessee is split, with multiple counties seeing COVID-19 cases rising and other counties seeing case numbers falling. A few have no cases, according to an interactive map published by The New York Times.  

California appears similar to Tennessee in this respect, but the Ray family of Seal Beach, California, is celebrating differently from the Smith family.  

“We’re not big on Mother’s and Father’s Day celebrations. It’s not a tradition we celebrate; it’s more a whatever’s going on that weekend,” Pauline Ray told VOA about past Father’s Days with her husband, Adam.  

California’s initial statewide shutdown in response to COVID-19 went into effect mid-March. But Ray, 42, described counties around her and throughout the state as taking it upon themselves to decide when to lift stay-at-home orders.  

“The state is open. So we can pretty much do whatever we want to do,” she said. “So this year it’s just going to be my family, the Rays, with my mom and dad in their Mexico house in Baja California, south of the border.”  

The Rays’ plans for the holiday weekend did not change because of any COVID-19 regulations or fears, but traveling out of the country is something many are either not allowed to do or are too fearful to do.  

The Gilbert family’s Father’s Day plans have remained intact and most likely would have even if their Midwestern state of Wisconsin had not started reopening.

“Usually we do some outdoor activity, so we’ll go hiking at a park or go down to the lakefront. Just enjoy the outdoors,” Sophie Gilbert, 20, of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, said, reflecting on a typical Father’s Day weekend. “And usually for dinner, we’ll do a cookout. My dad likes to cook meats on his smoker, so we all enjoy the fruits of his labor. Or my mom will cook him his favorite dinner.  

“I think we’re planning on going for a hike, which we’re still allowed to do,” Gilbert said about Sunday’s plans. “And then we’ll probably grill out, which we always do.”

The Gilberts have begun inviting over close family friends since their city began to ease restrictions, but they have yet to eat at a dine-in restaurant. They also have not attended any large social events.

But none of these safety precautions affect their annual Father’s Day weekend, because they traditionally celebrate as a family.

“It’ll just be the four of us,” Gilbert said, “doing what we usually do for Father’s Day.”