Father’s Day: A Brief History

Contrary to popular belief, Father’s Day was not created by an international tie and socks conspiracy.  I’ll grant you, retail advertising had a lot to do with keeping the day going during the lean years, but it’s still a standalone holiday.  It has all the rights and privileges afforded any other “It’s a holiday, but you can’t take the day off work” day, just like St. Valentine’s or St. Patrick’s.  The only difference is that, because it’s dad, it gets shuffled along to the last minute.  Somewhere around mid-morning on the third Saturday in June, getting creative is no longer an option, so most people just head for the haberdasher.  Dads really don’t mind, though; they figure they’re lucky to have a day at all.

To keep the family metaphor going, Father’s Day has always been the poor cousin of Mother’s Day.  Mother’s Day was founded first, in 1908, and it was an instant hit.  Between the newly-minted Hallmark Cards (Hall Brothers, at that time) and the flower power of the florist industry, Mother’s Day went 20th century viral almost immediately.  In fact, Mother’s Day became so commercially successful that its founder, Anna Jarvis, disowned the holiday she had created and was once even arrested for demonstrating against it.  Father’s Day never had it so good.

There are several claimants to the title “Mother of Father’s Day.”  However, it’s generally accepted that Father’s Day was created in Spokane, Washington, by Sonora Dodd, for her father, William Smart, a single dad who raised six kids.  She wanted to celebrate it on his birthday, June 5th, but due to the church schedule, the first Father’s Day ceremony was held on June 19th, 1910 (the third Sunday in June of that year.)  At first, Father’s Day mucked along with some limited success (in 1916, it was recognized by President Woodrow Wilson) but in those days, dad was kinda the silent partner in the family unit, and the holiday fell into disuse.  It wasn’t until the Great Depression was slappin’ the economic crap out of everybody that we rediscovered Father’s Day.  It was a simple case of two ideas coming together at the same time.  While retailers were grasping at advertising straws to promote sales, the rest of us were more than willing to accept any excuse to brighten up the daily grind (which, by all accounts, was pretty grinding.)  Father’s Day came back into vogue – somewhat.  It still didn’t have the cachet Mother’s Day did, but at least dad could read the newspaper undisturbed one Sunday morning a year — if he so chose.

By the 1950s Father’s Day was fairly well established in North America.  However, in the United States, Congress still didn’t think that the American people needed a day to honour dad.  It wasn’t until Lyndon Johnson issued a presidential proclamation in 1966 that Father’s Day had any official status, at all.  Six years later, in 1972, President Nixon signed Father’s Day into law.  In actually fact, Father’s Day, in the US, is not a national holiday.  It’s something called a “Federal Observance,” which, as I’ve already stated, basically means dad doesn’t get the day off.

These days, Father’s Day is big business, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the other big hitters: Mother’s Day, Valentine’s and St. Paddy’s.  Dad isn’t being ignored anymore — most baseball teams try to get a home game on Father’s Day — but he’s still just dad, the guy you go looking for when it snows.  For example, Father’s Day is head and shoulders above any other day of the year for collect telephone calls.  Besides, we all know, from bitter experience, that most dads are tough to buy for.

This year, however, let me help you out.  Instead of stretching your brain all out of shape and ending up with the World’s Greatest Dad barbeque apron, give it a rest.  Jump in the car or get on your bike, wheel on over and spend some time just hanging with the old man.  It’ll do you both good.

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