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Nothing Quite Like Father’s Day

When it comes to gift-giving, there’s nothing quite like Father’s Day.

Who among us hasn’t feigned delight in presents like loud ties, funky slippers, power tools, nose hair trimmers, a copy of “Fatherhood for Dummies,” screwdriver sets, bacon-scented candles, barbecue aprons or beef jerky in a bag. It’s stuff men like as imagined by women and children. But that’s part of its charm.

If you’re a Dad, it’s important to remember that when the kids surprise you with something like a World’s Greatest Dad T-shirt emblazoned with a likeness of Darth Vader, it’s the thought that counts. Besides, the hugs and handmade cards are usually the best presents of all.

Moms have been worshiped since time immemorial. Dads, not so much. Now, as another Father’s Day looms, it’s a good time to discover who put the Pop in popular.

To hear tell, the first Father’s Day was held in Spokane, Wash., in 1910.

It was the brainchild of a woman with the lyrical name of Sonora Smart Dodd, who wanted a day to honor her father, a Civil War veteran named William Jackson Smart who, as a single parent, raised six kids.

Local pastors bought into the idea and preached the virtues of fatherhood from their pulpits on June 19. It didn’t exactly spread like wildfire.

There were several mitigating reasons: (1) It was, after all, Spokane, an Indian word meaning “that other city in Washington,” a place primarily known not for unique ideas but for being 20 miles from Idaho. (2) Ms. Dodd fled the city for the bright lights of Chicago where she studied at the Chicago Art Institute and undoubtedly saw things she never saw in Spokane. (3) The suggestion of a Father’s Day was often met with laughter, according to several historical accounts. It was the target of much satire, parody and derision, sort of like National Accordion Awareness Month is now. (4) Shockingly, many saw it as the first step in filling the calendar with mindless promotions.

It was up to Ms. Dodd to ride to the rescue.

According to a book called “The Buying and Selling of American Holidays,” Dodd returned to Spokane in the 1930s and started promoting the celebration again, raising awareness at a national level.

She had the help of those trade groups that would benefit most from the holiday, for example the manufacturers of ties, tobacco pipes, and any traditional presents for fathers. By 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.

Sentiment aside, there were more Dollars than Dads driving this celebration.

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.” To no avail.

In 1966, President Lyndon Johnson issued the first presidential proclamation honoring fathers, designating the third Sunday in June as Father’s Day.

Finally, the day was made a permanent national holiday when that go-to guy Richard Nixon signed it into law in 1972.

When it comes to family celebrations, Mother’s Day is the gold standard. Father’s Day ranks somewhere in between National Potato Chip Day and National Tap Dance Day in importance.

Mother’s Day means flowers and champagne brunches. Or dinner at a place where the menus don’t have prices. Father’s Day is a barbecue slaved over by the honoree. As one small boy once observed, “It’s just like Mother’s Day only you don’t spend so much.” 

In some places, Father’s Day takes on a life of its own.

In Germany, it’s traditional for groups of males to do a hiking tour with one or more wagons containing wine or beer or other assorted alcoholic beverages along with traditional regional food. Not surprisingly, many men end up getting drunk, according to press reports. The Federal Statistical Office of Germany says that alcohol-related traffic accidents multiply by three on this day. Nothing says love like Dad, full of schnapps, lying face down on the floor.

In this country, more phone calls are made during Mother’s Day than during Father’s Day, but the percentage of collect calls on Father’s Day is much higher.

Best definition of a Dad? “A father carries pictures where his money used to be.”

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Robert Rector
Robert Rector
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