The role of fathers has evolved over the years.
The percentage of fathers who are stay-at-home dads has doubled in the past 30 years. A majority of fathers say parenting is extremely important to their identity. And, as the Pew Research Center reports, “Just like mothers, many of today’s fathers find it challenging to balance work and family life.”
No longer are dads the stoic, distant protector of past generations.
We also have expanded our definition of what constitutes a father, recognizing that actions are more important than biological ties. Whether being part of a family with two dads, a stepfather, a father in a traditional nuclear family, or even a relative or mentor who is involved in a child’s upbringing, fathers impart wisdom that prepares future generations for adulthood.
Those lessons linger even after a father is gone. So it is that we celebrate Father’s Day, acknowledging the unique role of dads who are here and those who are no longer with us.
As Mark Twain quipped: “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.”
We celebrate that wisdom today, continuing a tradition that has its roots in Washington.
In 1909, the story goes, Spokane’s Sonora Dodd came up with the idea for Father’s Day 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 he 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 it into law in 1972.
Hallmark reports that Father’s Day ranks No. 4 in terms of greeting card purchases, and we are guessing that it ranks even higher in terms of selling golf clubs and hammers and ties.
But the commercial benefits of the day are not the reason we celebrate. What is more important is the role fathers play in raising productive and conscientious citizens. As ancient poet George Herbert reputedly said, “One father is worth more than a hundred schoolmasters.”
Yet while Father’s Day has been law for 50 years, we still have not mastered the art of gift-giving. A man who has a loving family, after all, already has everything necessary for happiness. That can make shopping difficult.
According to a YouGov poll last year, the most common desires for a Father’s Day gift are a card or a special experience with family, such as going to the beach or going for a hike. Clothing, something homemade, tools and electronic equipment also ranked high on the list.
Then again, so did “having a day to myself” — and that is a gift that doesn’t require wrapping paper.
The point is that you and your family are best equipped to figure out what Dad would like. You also are best equipped for thanking the father in your life for all he has done and the lessons he has imparted.
While the role of a father may have changed over the years, the important tasks that dads perform remain timeless.
Happy Father’s Day.