The first celebration of a “Father’s Day” was in 1908 when a West Virginia church commemorated the deaths in a mining accident of 361 miners, 250 of them fathers. The beginnings of a general celebration of fathers began a few years later, in Spokane, Washington, when Sonora Smart Dodd, inspired by a Mother’s Day celebration, urged her minister to declare a similar day for recognizing fathers. There were several unsuccessful attempts to establish official recognition of Father’s Day by Congress, but they were defeated. In 1957, Maine Senator Margaret Chase Smith criticized Congress for ignoring fathers for 40 years while honoring mothers, thus “[singling] out just one of our two parents”. In 1966, President Johnson proclaimed the third Sunday in June ‘Father’s day’ and in 1972 President Nixon signed a law making it a permanent national holiday. (Credit goes to Wikipedia for the brief history.)
One reason Congress resisted making Father’s Day a holiday was concern that the day would be commercialized. This fear was not unfounded, of course, though with respect to commercialization, Father’s Day doesn’t match Mother’s Day. But commercialization isn’t the only disparity between the two holidays. Anyone paying attention over the past few decades has seen instances where Father’s Day is used not to honor but to disparage fathers. (For some examples, Google: deadbeat dads “Father’s Day”.) Father’s Day has even been used as a day to target fathers who are behind on their child support obligations, as documented here by Glenn Sacks and Ned Holstein.
Thankfully, as public awareness of the importance of fathers in their children’s lives has increased in recent years, the use of Father’s Day as an opportunity to disparage dads seems to be in decline. And a new generation of young Americans, often poignantly aware of the pain of father absence, seems to yearn for greater father involvement with children.
NPO recently received a message from PhiL Bell, leader of the PhiL n’ Nem band sharing with us a musical tribute to fathers, “Pop Song”. There are many touching, stereotype-breaking songs about fathers and their love of their children. Here’s a list of 25 songs about fathers, spanning many decades and from a variety of musical genres. (I would add to that list Stevie Wonder’s lovely celebration of his newborn daughter, “Isn’t She Lovely”.)
And there are plenty of great films about fathers and their relationships with their children: To Kill a Mockingbird, Mrs. Doubtfire, Boyhood, Finding Nemo, Boyz n The Hood, The Pursuit of Happyness, and more. There’s also a new documentary by Bryce Dallas Howard and her father, Ron Howard, Dads, that’s funny, touching, and well worth watching
This Father’s Day, we can step back from the commercialization of the day and celebrate the fathers in our lives--watch a father-positive film, listen to some songs that remind us of a father’s love for his children, or, as researcher Linda Nielsen recommends, really get to know your father.