In the US, dads sometimes get a bad rap. In sitcoms and movies (and a certain Harry Chapin song), they’re often portrayed as caricatures of manhood that are too absent, too tough, too soft, or just incompetent.
Those portrayals don’t match everybody’s experience of course, and we should celebrate fatherhood done well. It’s a big job– one to rise to.
In the US, faith-based celebrations of mothers and motherhood date back at least as far back as the Civil War. In 1908, the East Coast Mother’s Day celebrations that presaged the official national Mother’s Day holiday were held in Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
One year later, Sonora Smart Dodd conceived of Father’s day after attending a sermon about Mother’s Day in Spokane, Washington. She wanted to honor her father, widower and civil war veteran William Smart, who had raised her and her five brothers after her mother died.
In 1910, Dodd petitioned the city of Spokane on her father’s birthday, June 5. Since it took some time to put together, the official holiday didn’t take place until the 19th. At the first celebration, attendees were encouraged to wear a red rose to honor living fathers and white ones for those who had passed away.
As had once been the case for Mother’s Day organizations, Father’s Day organizations sprung up advocating the celebration. The road from the first Father’s Day celebration to its formal federal authorization was a long one, though.
In 1913, the same year Mother’s Day was made official, President Wilson publicly endorsed Father’s day. He even attended the Spokane celebration in 1916. It wasn’t until 1957, however, that a bill was introduced to Congress in support. In 1966, LBJ finally signed a presidential proclamation cementing it, and in 1972 President Nixon finally signed the permanent holiday into public law, establishing its celebration on the third Sunday of June every year.
Today, the stone that marks Dodd’s grave names her “Founder of Father’s Day.”
Way back in 1961, representative Walt Horan introduced one of several bills recommending Father’s day. In an address to Congress, he said, ““In our present age of complex scientific activities, such as sending a man, or perhaps I should say a father, into outer space, it is indeed refreshing to take time to grant simple official recognition to our American fathers.”
Something to aspire to indeed.
As we head into this 39th Father’s Day, let’s celebrate the fathers that rose to the occasion. And, if you’re doing that work today, thank you.