The history of Father’s day

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By Zile Singh

Every year, third Sunday of June is celebrated as Father’s Day. The first known Father’s Day service occurred in Fairmont, West Virginia, on July 5, 1908, after hundreds of men died in the worst mining accident in U.S. history.

Behind every successful man, there is a woman. Among others, behind the recognition of Father’s Day, two prominent women played significant role. Grace Golden Clayton, the daughter of a dedicated minister, proposed a service to honor all fathers, especially those who had died. However, the observance did not become an annual event, and it was not promoted. 

Very few people outside of the local area knew about it. Meanwhile, across the entire country, another woman was inspired to honor fathers.  In 1909, Sonora Smart Dodd of Spokane, Washington, was inspired by another woman, Anna Jarvis and the idea of Mother’s Day. Sonora’s father, William Jackson Smart, a farmer and Civil War veteran, was  a single parent who raised Sonora and her five brothers by himself, after his wife Ellen died giving birth to their youngest child in 1898. While attending a Mother’s Day church service in 1909, Sonora, then 27 years old, came up with the idea.

Within a few months, Sonora had convinced the Spokane Ministerial Association and the YMCA to set aside a Sunday in June to celebrate fathers. She proposed June 5, her father’s birthday, but the ministers chose the third Sunday in June so that they would have more time after Mother’s Day (the second Sunday in May) to prepare their sermons.

Thus, on June 19, 1910, the first Father’s Day events commenced.  Sonora delivered presents to handicapped fathers, boys from the YMCA decorated their lapels with fresh-cut roses (red for living fathers, white for the deceased), and the city’s ministers devoted their homilies to fatherhood.

The widely publicized events in Spokane struck a chord that reached all the way to Washington, D.C., and Sonora’s celebration put the idea on the path to becoming a national holiday. However, the holiday did not catch on right away, perhaps due to the perceived parallels with Mother’s Day.

  • In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson and his family personally observed the day.
  • Eight years later, President Calvin Coolidge signed a resolution in favor of Father’s Day “to establish more intimate relations between fathers and their children and to impress upon fathers the full measure of their obligations.”
  • In 1966, President Lyndon Johnson signed an executive order that the holiday be celebrated on the third Sunday in June.
  • Under President Richard Nixon, in 1972, Congress passed an act officially making Father’s Day a national holiday. Six years later, Sonora died at age 96.

North America is not the only place where Father’s Day is celebrated, of course:

  • In traditionally Catholic countries such as Spain and Portugal, Father’s Day is observed on March 19, the Feast of St. Joseph.
  • The Taiwanese celebrate Father’s Day on August 8—the eighth day of the eighth month—because the Mandarin Chinese word for eight sounds like the word for “Papa.”
  • In Thailand, Father’s Day is celebrated on former King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s birthday, December 5

The modern role of father has changed over time. Mothers and fathers are partners, each taking more responsibility within family life.It’s not viewed as the “feminine model” with flowers, but it has become more of a day that celebrates

what Dad likes to do, whether it’s going camping, golfing, grilling, fishing, or flying! It focuses on the larger roles that dads play with their children.Fathers are now seen as significant influences on children; we know from many studies what happens when a father figure is lacking. In a sense, today Father’s Day helps to demonstrate the importance and value of fatherhood—and the gifts beyond material goods that a father bestows on his children and family.

          Men viewed the idea of Father’s Day as similar to Mother’s Day, which was popular with florists; for fathers it didn’t have the same sentimental appeal. As one historian writes, they “scoffed at the holiday’s sentimental attempts to domesticate manliness with flowers and gift-giving, or they derided the proliferation of such holidays as a commercial gimmick to sell more products—often paid for by the father himself.”

Also, according to Lawrence R. Samuel, the author of American Fatherhood: A Cultural History, men had a different role in the family.  It was patriarchal, so they felt that a special day to exalt fatherhood was a rather silly idea, when it was mothers who were underappreciated. However, that sentiment changed over time for several reasons.

“There is no teacher equal to mother and there’s nothing more contagious than the dignity of a father.” – Amit Ray.