For some, selecting a gift for Dad for Father’s Day is easy. Dad’s an oenophile, so you buy him a few bottles of cabernet sauvignon. He enjoys puttering around in the garden, which brings him some brand new tools and a pair of gloves. He frequently works at home and sometimes needs to escape the clamor of the little ones, so you give him a nice set of noise-canceling headphones.
In my case, my kids, all of them grown now, usually get me a gift certificate to Happy Creek Coffee or the Royal Oak Bookshop, both of which bring me pleasure. The coffee shop is a second home to me, and shopping for books is always a joy.
But for Father’s Day in 2020, the gang of four outdid themselves. My daughter wanted to get me a La-Z-Boy, persuaded her brothers to chip in, and whisked me off to a local furniture store for testing purposes. We managed to get that chair into her van, put it together in the living room, and practically every early afternoon since then has found me with my feet kicked out and my head back taking a nap. The best part is that almost every time I flop down into this monument to relaxation I think of my kids.
I may not be the greatest father or grandfather in the country, but I count myself among the best rested.
So where did this celebration of fatherhood originate and what does the holiday mean?
Let’s take a look.
A Brief History
While scouting out the history of Father’s Day online, I was surprised to learn that the Catholic Church has for several centuries celebrated fathers on March 19, the Feast Day of Saint Joseph, Mary’s husband and legal father of Jesus. The church regarded Joseph as the greatest of all fathers, and so chose that date to honor fatherhood in general.
Here in America, it wasn’t until 1909 that Father’s Day as we know it came into being.
In that year, a Spokane, Washington woman, Sonora Smart Dodd, heard a sermon in her church promoting Mother’s Day. Dodd was 16 years old when her mother died in childbirth, leaving her to help raise her brothers, including the surviving infant. Awed by the efforts of her father to care for his many children—“He was both mother and father to me and my brothers and sisters,” she said years later—Dodd began promoting a Father’s Day, and by 1910, the state of Washington declared it a state-wide holiday.
The idea spread, gained traction during the Second World War when so many fathers were fighting overseas, and was declared a federal holiday in 1972 by President Richard Nixon. Today we celebrate Father’s Day on the third Sunday of June.
Vive La Difference!
The emotions associated with Father’s Day differ from those we attach to Mom’s special celebration in May. One reason for this disparity is this: All good moms are nurturing caregivers blessed with maternal instincts. They’re the ones who kiss the boo-boo on little Sally’s knee or deliver the assignment Joey forgot to take to school. They’ve carried these children in the womb, changed thousands of diapers, and them to hundreds of ballet lessons. Pan a camera along the sidelines during a football game, and the players on the bench often wave and yell, “Hi Mom!”
Dads play a different role in the lives of their children.
Here’s just one example. Long ago, some television show like “60 Minutes” used hidden cameras to film various mothers and fathers teaching their toddlers to go down a slide. When some of the little ones clung to the top of the slide, refusing to let go, nearly all the moms approached them and offer to hold their hands while they made their descent. When the same situation occurred with fathers in charge, these dads stood at the bottom of the slide, commanding and encouraging their sons and daughters to let go of the slide and make the plunge.
Moms tend to be the cheerleaders. Dads are often the coaches.
All Shapes and Sizes
Like the differences between mothers and fathers, the parenting styles and practices of dads can also vary widely.
I’ve known dads who could feed the baby Gerber’s oatmeal for breakfast while simultaneously dressing the 4-year old for Montessori school and helping the 6-year-old put together her peanut butter sandwich. On the other hand, I’ve known dads who called their wives at their book club meeting and begged them to come home because the 3-year-old refused to go to bed. I’ve known fathers who thought nothing of taking four children to the public library, and I’ve known others who never left the house with their toddlers, finding a car trip to the park too bothersome an ordeal to entertain.
The church I attend offers numerous examples of fatherhood in action. This place has enough young children at every service to fill up a couple of good-sized daycare centers, so that on any given Sunday morning I am surrounded by squirming toddlers and sleeping babies. Sometimes I take note of the different parenting styles practiced by dads—yes, yes, I know, I’m supposed to be paying attention to the altar and not to the commotion around me—and am fascinated by these interactions.
Although on occasion I’ve seen a dad sit slightly apart from his spouse, leaving her to wrestle with three little ones, most of these dads are involved with the children. Some clutch their wriggling child as if securing a possibly violent criminal. Others quietly play with the 2-year-old, finger games, kisses on the nose, and blowing on the hair. Still others are leaning over and whispering threats into a rambunctious child’s ear that instantly squash that rebellion.
I personally know some of these dads. They’re the sort who arrive home after a long day’s work, grab a beer or an iced tea, and take the older kids into the backyard for a game of catch or “ooh and ah” over their first grader’s crayon art. Later, grilling burgers on the deck, these are the sorts of dads who ask their teenage daughters about their school day and then really listen to them.
Ordinary guys. And great dads.
Father’s Day is based on the premise that our fathers deserve our affection and appreciation.
But what if they don’t?
What about those fathers who have abandoned their children, who have in some cases never laid eyes on them, much less remembered their birthdays or sent them a holiday gift? What about those dads who abused their children, whether physically or mentally?
We’ve all known fathers who failed in even the basic paternal duties, who left their children bereft, mourning the absence of such men in their lives or worse, cursing them for the sorrow and pain they inflicted.
Some of you in these situations might ask: So how is it possible to celebrate Father’s Day when you either have no father or you were raised by a brute who mistreated you and your siblings?
Here’s one thought: Look around and find a father you admire. They’re all over the place. This Father’s Day, look one of those men in the eye and tell him sincerely how much you admire him as a dad and how lucky his children are.
Your salute to him may just turn out to be the best gift that man gets on Father’s Day.
Some 80 years ago, there was a movement in America to replace Father’s Day and Mother’s Day with Parents’ Day. The argument then was that both mothers and fathers were necessary to raise good kids and that they should be recognized as a single unit rather than separately.
Much has changed in our country since that time. Divorce is more prevalent, families headed by single parents, most often mothers, are now common, and the traditional family has suffered many attacks from culture and government policies. We seem at times to have forgotten that children need good moms and good dads.
If nothing else, Father’s Day affords us the opportunity to remember this fact, a time to recollect the importance of the men who defend their families, provide for their children, tell corny jokes and read bedtime stories, and teach their daughters and sons how to throw a baseball, ride a bike, or cast a fishing line into the water.
The Best Thank You in the World
And that act of appreciation doesn’t require gifts of wine, books, or even a special chair for napping. Here is all it needs:
Years ago, when I would walk the three blocks from the bookstore we owned on Waynesville’s Main Street home to the bed-and-breakfast we operated, a couple of my children might be waiting for me, sitting in the rockers on the front porch. When they saw me coming down the street, they would dash to the sidewalk, calling to me, and I would cross Pigeon Street to be swept up by waist-high hugs and delightful laughter.
You want to appreciate your good Dad on June 20?
Give him a huge hug and tell him you love him.
Jeff Minick has four children and a growing platoon of grandchildren. For 20 years, he taught history, literature, and Latin to seminars of homeschooling students in Asheville, N.C. He is the author of two novels, “Amanda Bell” and “Dust on Their Wings,” and two works of non-fiction, “Learning as I Go” and “Movies Make the Man.” Today, he lives and writes in Front Royal, Va. See JeffMinick.com to follow his blog.