Today is Father’s Day: the one time a year set aside to recognize and honor Dad. But it wasn’t always celebrated as it is today, and many men did not want the distinction. Some even considered it foolish. It was many years after Mother’s Day became popular before the idea and tradition of Father’s Day took root.
Mother’s Day became a national holiday in 1914. President Woodrow Wilson called the occasion a way to recognize “that tender, gentle army – the mothers of America.” Men considered it a feminine holiday associated with flowers and sentiment, something they were not interested in for themselves. But the push to have the day of honor began after Grace Golden Clayton wanted to show support for her own father, who was a reverend.
Clayton’s father had passed away in 1896, and after a tragic mining explosion that killed more than 360 men and left nearly 1,000 children without a father, she wanted to honor all dads. The first recorded Father’s Day was held during a Sunday service in Fairmont, West Virginia on Jul. 5, 1908. However, Clayton is not credited with actually starting the day of honor; that distinction went to Sonora Smart Dodd of Spokane, WA, who was listening to a Mother’s Day sermon in 1909 and decided it was time to pay tribute to fathers as well.
Dodd went to the Spokane Ministerial Association and the YMCA, suggesting a special celebration on Jun. 5, her own father’s birthday. The idea had appeal, but the ministers requested a date set out a little later to give them time to prepare, and one that wasn’t so close to Mother’s Day. The first Father’s Day celebration in Spokane was held on Jun. 19, 1910 (the third Sunday) and became a yearly event. Dodd gave presents to handicapped fathers, and boys from the YMCA joined in the festivities by wearing fresh-cut roses on their lapels – red for living fathers or white for deceased.
President Wilson encouraged support to dedicate a day to celebrate fathers in 1913, but Congress did not pass the bill. In 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson issued a proclamation that designated the third Sunday in June as a time to honor fathers. Still, it wasn’t until 1972, when President Richard Nixon signed a law declaring the third Sunday as Father’s Day, that it became an official holiday across the nation.
Despite men feeling silly about having a day in their honor, there were some things that helped ease the path to the holiday. The Great Depression saw most families struggling to make ends meet and put food on the table for their families. This was a great excuse to get dad a tie, pair of socks, or some other clothing he may need but wasn’t about to spend the money on for himself. World War II was another inspiration to show respect and support for dads on the front lines.
While most countries commemorate Father’s Day in some way, not all celebrate it on the third Sunday in June. For example, Norway, Sweden, and Finland chose the second Sunday in November for the day, while in Australia, Father’s Day is celebrated on the first Sunday in September.
In Taiwan, the Father’s Day is the eighth day of the eighth month (Aug. 8) because in Mandarin Chinese, the word for “eight” sounds like “papa.” And in Thailand, locals celebrate on Dec. 5, the former King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s birthday.