This Sunday, June 20, is the 100th Anniversary of Father‘s Day in the USA. If Congress were voting today on a law setting aside one day every year to honor fathers, it wouldn’t pass. After all, it took some of the best fathering this nation ever had to get the first law passed.
Do Americans believe a strong dad in the home is necessary? We can take small doses of elderly dads portrayed on TV—say, Martin Crane of Frasier and Arthur Spooner of The King of Queens. Most likely, none of these dads are like the dad we grew up with. They seem funny and easy to put up with in their son or daughter’s home. In each case, the dad isn’t caring for his child. His adult child is caring for him.
Other popular TV dads over the past quarter century have mixed humor with ineptness, most notably Everybody Loves Raymond, Home Improvement, and The Cosby Show. It seems easier to laugh at a man who’s trying hard to be a dad than to actually have a father in the home.
In the heart of each child is a longing for his or her dad to be someone special. Sadly, that longing is often unfulfilled. Still, given the choice between an absent dad or a dad in the home who can be overbearing, unreasonable, and even controlling, many children would choose the latter.
Believe me, I’ve heard many stories about how bad the “old man” was—too harsh, too strict, too conservative, too nosey. My dad was all of that and more. Yet I admire him. Why?
One time I told my mother a bad word another student had said on the school playground. She informed my dad, who had me take a bite of soap.
Dad made me stand up for myself against bullies. He held me accountable for character, manners, and habits: Did you take a shower? Don’t smoke. Don’t drink to excess. Respect women. Work hard. Don’t complain. Treat others like you want to be treated.
This year my father turns 95 and has been married to my mother (also 95) for 75 years this September. Was he a perfect dad? No! Was he financially successful? Not really. A heart attack at age 44 forced him to retire. He has lived longer since that heart attack than before.
1. His character. He tells the truth. Always.
2. His habits. He has never been drunk, never did drugs, smoked cigars occasionally, drinks a shot of whiskey in the evenings only, and never gambled.
3. Love for his wife. He has cared for her, watched over her, protected her, and stood by her as they buried four of their nine children.
4. Loved his kids in his own way. He was there every day. Nothing escaped my dad’s scrutiny.
So, why is it that we celebrate Father’s Day?
Sonora Smart Dodd of Spokane, Washington, organized the first Father’s Day celebration in 1910. Her father was a farmer, a Civil War veteran, and—after the death of his wife—a single parent to six young children. He truly was a dad to be admired.
In 1924 President Calvin Coolidge publicly supported plans for a national Father’s Day. In his book, First Fathers: The Men Who Inspired Our Presidents, Harold I. Gullan helps us understand why. Coolidge said of his father after his death: “He was a man of untiring industry and great tenacity of purpose… He always stuck to the truth. I cannot recall that I ever knew of his doing a wrong thing. He would be classed as decidedly a man of character.”
On another occasion Coolidge said, “My father had qualities greater than any I possess.” Coolidge and his father would kiss whenever they met each other, even in public. Of his childhood Coolidge said, “It would be hard to imagine better surroundings for a boy than those which I had…” Part of that was the country life and no doubt living under his father’s roof.
Coolidge wrote most about his father in his autobiography. He was in awe of his dad. His dad was generous, charitable, and regarded waste as a moral wrong. He wanted “to grow up to be like him.”
In 1966 President Lyndon Johnson proclaimed Father’s Day to be an official national holiday. His father was known as “A man who loved his fellow man.” Lyndon, in his childhood, wanted nothing more than to be like his dad, to try to replicate him in every way. It is said that at his core, Lyndon never ceased loving his dad. He admired what he stood for.
It wasn’t until 1972, though, that President Richard Nixon signed into law a permanent U.S. Father’s Day to be observed on the third Sunday of June. One biographer called Nixon’s dad “the most influential teacher in Richard’s life.” His dad was “the driving force” in their family. Nixon wrote, “There was never a day I was not proud of him (my dad).” In his memoirs, Nixon wrote of his father, “My father’s interest in politics made him the most enthusiastic follower of my career from the beginning.”
Today many kids grow up without a dad. They don’t know him well enough to admire him. In some instances, they have never met their biological dad.
What chance would we have of passing a law to honor fathers today?
Duane J. (D.J.) Young is a full-time researcher, writer, and conference speaker on issues pertaining to fatherhood, www.wisdom4dads.com.
Assist News Service