As you are all aware, Sunday is Father’s Day – and unlike many other celebratory dates, this is one we British do share with our American cousins.
In fact, many English people used to consider Father’s Day as less important than Mother’s Day and an “American import,” but I always thought it was a great invention and only fair that we acknowledge our fathers as much as our mothers.
My own father is 3,000 miles away in rainy England, but thank goodness for telephone, email and the good old U.S. mail, which by now should have handed his card and gift over to the Royal Mail back in Blighty (an old-fashioned slang term for Britain).
The third Sunday in June is Father’s Day around much of the world, but there are exceptions. For example: Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Papua New Guinea celebrate their fathers in September, while Scandinavia favors November. And in Thailand, they celebrate it on Dec. 5 – the birthday of King Bhumibol.
In the U.S., Father’s Day was actually first celebrated more than 100 years ago in West Virginia in 1908. It was organized by Grace Golden Clayton, the youngest of eight children born to the Rev. Fletcher Golden.
Grace not only cherished her own father, but also decided that her community needed a special day to commemorate the lives lost in the Monongh Mining Disaster of Dec. 6, 1907. This has been described as the worst mining accident in American history because almost 400 men, over half of them fathers, lost their lives on that terrible day.
Although the celebration was successful in this region of America, Father’s Day did not really gain traction because the state of West Virginia did not make any moves to institutionalize the day.
Completely independent of Clayton’s efforts and 2,500 miles away in Spokane, Wash., a few years later, one Sonora Dodd decided a day in honor of all fathers should be created. Sonora was devoted to her own father, William Smart, who had been a member of the 1st Arkansas Light Artillery and fought in the 1862 Battle of Pea Ridge during the Civil War, the battle that cemented Union control of Missouri.
Sonora’s Father’s Day was celebrated locally, got attention nationally, and the rest is history:
• 1916 – President Woodrow Wilson visited to Spokane and talked about Father’s Day in a speech
• 1966 - President Lyndon Johnson signed a presidential proclamation declaring the third Sunday of June as Father’s Day
• 1972 - President Richard Nixon established a permanent national observance of Father’s Day
As is the American way – and I say this as someone who loves America, commercialization was not far behind. The Associated Men’s Wear Retailers trade organization formed a National Father’s Day Committee in New York City in the 1930s, with the goal of legitimizing the holiday in the minds of citizens and developing the gift-giving potential of it.
Sonora Dodd supported this, which was completely the opposite of Anna Jarvis, the founder of Mother’s Day, who actively opposed all commercialization.
Time marches on, and it appears to me that fathers are much more hands on than they used to be. My stepson became a father for the first time nine months ago to my beautiful granddaughter.
Watching him and other young fathers in their 20s and 30s, it impresses me how they take their turn on things like changing diapers and pureeing vegetables. In contrast, my husband, in his early 50s, loves play time, but then hands the baby over for the messier aspects of child care.
My own dad has been a hugely positive influence in my own life, and a day to commemorate him seems wholly appropriate. Happy Father’s Day, Dad, and God bless America!
Frances grew up in London, England, and moved to Richmond Hill in 2009 with her American husband, Carl, and English dogs. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.lesleyfrancispr.com.