Thursday, September 23, 2021
Sept. 23, 2021

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In Our View: Celebrate the special roles that fathers play

The Columbian

Throughout its history, the state of Washington has made transformative contributions to American society. Boeing made the world smaller, Microsoft made it smarter, and Amazon has delivered it to your doorstep. But today we celebrate one of our state’s lesser-known contributions: Father’s Day.

Yes, the American version of Father’s Day can trace its roots directly to Spokane, where the holiday was conceived more than a century ago.

In 1909, the story goes, Sonora Dodd came up with the idea while listening to a Mother’s Day sermon. Her father, William Smart, was a widowed Civil War veteran who raised six children while working his farm, and Dodd believed that deserved some recognition. The first Father’s Day was proclaimed by the mayor of Spokane on June 19, 1910, with the month selected because Smart’s birthday was in June.

The idea spread and became a popular occasion for honoring fathers, but it was not formally established in the United States until 1966, when President Lyndon Johnson signed a proclamation recognizing the third Sunday in June as Father’s Day. President Richard Nixon signed the holiday into law in 1972.

Of course, the existence of Father’s Day itself hasn’t transformed American society. But the role that fathers play 365 days a year remains essential to raising productive and conscientious citizens and is worthy of celebration.

That role extends beyond biological ties to include stepfathers, mentors and anybody who serves as a positive male role model for a child. As ancient poet George Herbert reputedly said, “One father is worth more than a hundred schoolmasters.”

That remains true, even as the role of fathers has been altered. According to Pew Research Center:

  • By 2016, 7 percent of fathers were stay-at-home dads, an increase from 4 percent in 1989.
  • About one-quarter of couples living with children younger than 18 were in families where only the father works outside the home – a dramatic change from 47 percent in 1970. That might ease a family’s financial burden, but it also spreads out child care duties.
  • The amount of time fathers spend on child care has tripled in the past 50 years. And still, a majority of male parents say they spend less time than they would like with their children.
  • And a majority of fathers say parenthood is central to their identity.

Each of these reflects societal changes over the past several decades, and those roles likely have been further altered during the coronavirus pandemic.

For most families, the days when the archetypical father was the primary financial provider, a stern disciplinarian and a detached parent are long gone — and fathers and children are all the better for it.

The American Psychological Association reports: “Research across families from all ethnic backgrounds suggests that fathers’ affection and increased family involvement help promote children’s social and emotional development.”

All of that is reason to celebrate fathers — and celebrate we will. According to the National Retail Federation, spending on Father’s Day is expected to reach a record $20 billion this year. And according to Hallmark, Father’s Day is the fourth-busiest card-giving occasion.

As often has been said, any man can be a father, but it takes someone special to be a dad. The rest of the nation can thank Sonora Dodd for believing that is worthy of recognition.