A History of Father’s Day— Past and Present

By Marian Edelbrock, PhD, San Digo Miramar College

Father’s Day dates back to the middle ages when on March 19 it was celebrated as the feast day of Saint Joseph. It is celebrated worldwide on various dates but in Latin America was adopted from the March date celebrated by the founding Spanish and Portuguese explorers. However, it was not celebrated in the United States until the 20th Century.

In the US, Father’s Day, which we will be celebrating this Sunday, originally evolved as a memorial. Back in 1907, Grace Clayton proposed a day in remembrance of 360 men lost in a mine explosion in Fairmont, West Virginia, which left many children fatherless. In 1909, a year after Mother’s Day became officially accepted, Sonora Smart Dodd of Spokane, Washington, was listening to a Mother’s Day sermon at her church. She admired her father for raising his six children alone so she decided she wanted to honor her father and all others in a similar way. She promoted her idea to local clergymen who agreed that a day would be chosen to honor all fathers and on June 19, 1910, sermons honoring fathers were presented throughout the city.

Although the event lost momentum for a decade, in the 1930s, Dodd re-promoted the celebration, with other cities across the country copying this event. Merchants encouraged the commercial aspect of the holiday, introducing a bill in Congress in 1913 to recognize Father’s Day. However, Congress resisted due to a concern for the risk of excessive commercialism. In 1924, President Coolidge recommended that the day be observed throughout the entire nation but Congress defeated several attempts to formally recognize the holiday.  In 1966, President Johnson issued the first presidential proclamation honoring fathers and designated the third Sunday in June as Father’s Day. The day became a permanent national holiday when it was signed into law by President Nixon in 1972, formally recognizing the role that fathers have played in our lives.

It is fitting that we consider the role of remembrance this coming Father’s Day, as we think of our military fathers and mothers. For many in San Diego, military service has meant that our fathers and mothers have had to play a very different role on days such as this. Many fathers have made the ultimate sacrifice or cannot come home to be with their families, leaving their children to watch other families in celebration. However, we can commemorate the day in an appreciation of the person we love, having fun, positive experiences that we can record, share or send out our joy to the universe.

For some, Father’s Day may hold painful memories – just as the origins of the day held. Not everyone has a father in their lives or happy memories of the person who was their father. Think of the child who does not have a father to give the school Father’s Day project to. What if your father is estranged, lives far away, you never knew him, or has died? Spending time and energy in positive thoughts promotes forgiveness and healing, whereas holding in negativity and resentment is stressful and destructive at a cellular level. Finding a way to create a positive day this coming Sunday may be the best way to promote healing and joy in our lives and for those around us. Most of us can think of someone who has played a fatherly role in our lives, giving of himself, offering advice and support when we needed it most. Perhaps this surrogate father can provide the focus for our thanks giving.

Here are some ways to mark the day in memory of the fathers in our lives:

  • Give something of yourself as a gift – a present can be the gift of time, to someone whose fathering role has made a difference in your life
  • Perform random act of kindness in memory of your father
  • Take him breakfast in bed – it’s not just for mothers! Or make him his favorite treat or dessert, or go on a picnic.
  • Do you have any old videos or photos of when you were a child? Watch them with him if he is still in your life or watch and remember him
  • If he is still in your life, make a video or audio recording of him telling a story or joke. If he is not in your life, record one of your memories or thoughts of him that you can review in subsequent years
  • BBQ for your father – if he is in your life, invite him there or ask a surrogate father to join you for a celebratory meal
  • Write him an essay, letter or poem – if he is no longer in your life, share it with someone for whom you care
  • Write down the major lessons your father or father figure has taught you and illustrate with pictures or photos for your father or others to read
  • Hang out with your father. Set aside “unplugged time” with him and do something he enjoys – perhaps play a game, go outdoors, go to the beach, watch a movie or play some sport together
  • Show your appreciation by telling him what he means to you
  • For those of whom their father is not with them, spend some time in meditation or mindful practice, sending positive messages of thanks for the father figures we have had in our lives

SAY San Diego believes in the development of self-sufficiency, strengthening families, and parenting support. So it is fitting that SAY San Diego celebrates the many victories of their fathers, who have come to rely on their positive and enduring support, by wishing all fathers a “Happy Father’s Day!”