June 9, 2022

Why do we celebrate Father's Day?

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The official U.S. celebration of Father’s Day will turn 50 this year. In the mid-1960s President Lyndon Johnson, through an executive order, designated that the third Sunday in June should be set aside to honor American fathers. However, it wasn’t until six years later, during the Nixon administration, that Father’s Day was officially observed as a national holiday.1

There are many men still alive who were honored on that observance in 1972. In other words, the establishment of the holiday seems very recent, especially when you think about how fathers have been honored throughout recorded history.

Scores of other countries celebrate their own versions of Father’s Day on various dates throughout the year. As far as historians can tell, the U.S. version has two possible origins, both in the early 20th century.

One candidate is a July 5th, 1908 observation in the town of Fairmont, West Virginia. It occurred shortly after a deadly coal mine explosion claimed the lives of 361 men. A woman named Grace Golden Clayton suggested to a local Methodist minister that they hold services to celebrate fathers. Perhaps this was to serve as a reminder to take the opportunity to honor your father while he is still living.

The other candidate for the origin of the holiday occurred one year later on the opposite side of the country. The story goes that Sonora Smart Dodd got the idea while sitting in church listening to a Mother’s Day sermon. Dodd had not had a mother growing up. Her mother had died giving birth to her sixth child. This left Dodd’s father, a Civil War veteran, to raise half a dozen children on his own. In addition to giving them a loving home he also managed to run his small farm in Washington state.

At Dodd’s suggestion, the city of Spokane celebrated Father’s Day on the third Sunday in June, 1909.

Writing for the Art of Manliness, Brett and Kate McKay note that Father’s Day has been largely hijacked by marketers.

“A holiday that was supposed to honor dad and enumerate his special qualities, now is used to sell chili pepper ties and shop vacs.”

It’s understandable that if you don’t know exactly how to express your feelings to your father, you might bypass the awkwardness by getting him a mug that says, “World’s Greatest Dad.”

But the McKays suggest that instead you simply write a card expressing some of the things you love and admire about him.

“Just tell him that you’re glad to be his son” or daughter.

We wish all dads a happy Father’s Day and hope they feel appreciated for their important role in our lives.



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