Sense and Nonsense: Honoring fathers for giving much more than life
By Lynda Hollenbeck
Sunday is Father's Day when we pay tribute to those whose paternal guidance has shaped our lives and for many continues to be a strong influence.
Most countries celebrate this event on the third Sunday of June. It was inaugurated in the United States in the early 20th century to complement Mother's Day in celebrating fatherhood and male parenting.
After the success obtained by Anna Jarvis with the promotion of Mother's Day in the United States, some wanted to create similar holidays for other family members, and Father's Day was the choice most likely to succeed. There were other persons in the United States who independently thought of Father's Day, but credit for the modern holiday is usually given to Sonora Dodd, who was the driving force behind its establishment.
We in Arkansas can take some pride in her accomplishment since she was born in our state, although she was living in Spokane, Wash., at the time she founded the observance.
The first celebration took place at the Spokane YMCA on June 19, 1910. Dodd's father, Civil War veteran William Jackson Smart, was a single parent who had raised his six children there. After hearing a sermon on Mother's Day in 1909, she told her pastor that fathers should have a similar holiday in their honor. Although she initially suggested June 5, which was her father's birthday, the ministers did not have enough time to prepare their sermons and the celebration was deferred to the third Sunday of June.
Initially, the celebration met with little success and in the 1920s Dodd stopped promoting it because she was studying at the Art Institute of Chicago. The observance faded into relative obscurity for a time, even in Spokane. However, in the 1930s Dodd returned to Spokane and started promoting the celebration again, raising awareness at a national level.
This time she had the help of those trade groups that would benefit most from the holiday — the manufacturers of ties, tobacco pipes and traditional presents for fathers. After 1938 she had the help of the Father's Day Council, founded by the New York Associated Men's Wear Retailers, to consolidate and systematize the commercial promotion.
Americans resisted the holiday for a few more decades, perceiving it as just an attempt by merchants to replicate the commercial success of Mother's Day, and newspapers frequently featured cynical and sarcastic attacks and jokes. But the trade groups didn't up: They kept promoting it and even incorporated the jokes into their ads, eventually achieving success.
By the mid-1980s the Father's Council wrote that "Father's Day has become a 'second Christmas' for all the men's gift-oriented industries."
A bill to accord national recognition for the holiday had been introduced in Congress in 1913. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson went to Spokane to speak in a Father's Day celebration and wanted to make it official, but Congress resisted, fearing it would become commercialized. President Calvin Coolidge recommended in 1924 that the day be observed by the nation, but stopped short of issuing a national proclamation.
Two earlier attempts to formally recognize the holiday had been defeated by Congress. In 1957, Maine Senator Margaret Chase Smith wrote a proposal accusing Congress of ignoring fathers for 40 years while honoring mothers, thus "singling out just one of our two parents."
In 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson issued the first presidential proclamation honoring fathers, designating the third Sunday in June as Father's Day. Six years later, the day was made a permanent national holiday when President Richard Nixon signed it into law in 1972, and it's been continuing ever since.
So, come Sunday, those of you who still can should pay homage to the father figures in your life. They have earned their place of honor.
Fathers come in all shapes and sizes. The one who gave me life was short, somewhat rounded and didn't have a lot of hair, but had a heart as big as Texas.
He was gentle, witty and wise. Everyone in the family turned to him for guidance. Without any trace of overbearing, he could say just what needed to be said in any crisis.
When he died far ahead of schedule, it left a hole in my heart that never has healed fully. But I have the best memories that any daughter could have.
Years down the road, when I met the man who would become my husband of 36, nearly 37, years, I found someone much like him in temperament. Had it been possible, I feel certain they would have been friends.
On Sunday, while many are able to honor their living fathers, I will be thinking of both of these men who shaped my life at different times.
Each was special. I was blessed to have them both.
Lynda Hollenbeck is senior editor of The Saline Courier.