Father’s Day only became a federal holiday in 1972

By Laura Rahill

This coming Sunday, the third in June, we celebrate the important father figures in our lives on what is known worldwide as Father’s Day.

Like Mother’s Day is a celebration of those maternal figures in our lives, Father’s Day is a celebration of those important paternal figures.

But unlike Mother’s Day, Father’s Day does not get nearly the same recognition.

Mother’s Day fuels 75 percent more spending than Father’s Day worldwide. About 141 million greeting cards are purchased each year around Mother’s Day, compared to 90 million for Father’s Day.

It is not fully known why this is the case.

In 1908, Mother’s Day became a commercial holiday, but Father’s Day was not met with the same enthusiasm which, as a florist explained, was because “fathers haven’t the same sentimental appeal that mothers have.”

The nation’s first event in honor of fathers holds a sad memory over it. On July 5, 1908, a West Virginia church sponsored the nation’s first event in a Sunday morning sermon in memory of the 362 men, mostly fathers, who had died in the previous December’s explosions at the Fairmount Coal Co. Mines in Monongah.

Although this event was a once-off, a woman from Washington state called Sonora Smart Dodd, one of six children raised by a widower, tried to establish an official equivalent to Mother’s Day for male parents.

Sonora felt strongly about this idea, as she deeply acknowledged the love and care her father gave her and her siblings, raising a newborn and five other children when her mother died.

Sonora was successful in her campaign and, on July 19, 1910, Washington state celebrated its first Father’s Day. The day was sometimes held in disdain by men who saw it as a gimmick or a way to sentimentalize manliness with gifts often paid for by themselves.

During the 1920s and ’30s, a movement began to scrap Mother’s and Father’s days altogether in favor of a single, united holiday that would be known as Parents Day.

Parents Day activist Robert Spare stated that “both parents should be loved and respected together.”

During the Great Depression, struggling retailers and advertisers doubled their efforts to make sure Father’s Day remained as its own holiday alongside Mother’s Day. Ties, hats, socks, tobacco and golf clubs were heavily promoted.

World War II became another way for retailers to cash in on this holiday by claiming Father’s Day was a chance to honor American troops and support the war effort.

By the end of the war, Father’s Day may not have been a federal holiday, but it was a national institution.

In 1972, in a presidential re-election campaign, President Richard Nixon signed a proclamation making Father’s Day a federal holiday at last. Today, it is celebrated all across the United States and in many other countries, such as Australia, Ireland, France and Japan, to name just a few, as we lovingly acknowledge our father figures.

Wishing every father and, of course, my own a wonderful and peaceful Father’s Day this coming Sunday.

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