We seem to treat fathers–our own as well as the father of our children–differently on their Special Day than we do mothers on Mother’s Day. Perhaps it’s because we’re wired differently. (I mean, seriously, when was the last time the man in your life requested flowers, chocolate, and dinner out? And do men even eat chocolate?!?) But breakfast in bed, be it simply piping hot coffee served up with The New York Times, equates with that pastry and whipped-cream-topped strawberries that we asked for on our mommy-tray. I have found that men are profoundly appreciative of any simple loving gesture made on their behalf. The little morning romp my kids made with their dad today–with coffee, handmade cards, poems, and wrapped gifts–did more to get him going than any thing else we could have done. It read: “We didn’t forget you this year, dad.” (We honestly did forget him a couple years ago…)
Father’s Day has its origins in Mother’s Day. When a thoughtful Sonora Louise Smart Dodd listened to a sermon on Mother’s Day, she felt that fathers deserved every bit as much appreciation and attention–if for a day–as do mothers. She approached her minister in Spokane, Washington in1909, with her idea of a special Father’s Day sermon in memory of her own father, William Smart. Widowed during the birth of their sixth child, William single-parented that newborn baby as well as the couple’s five older children. Now an adult herself, Dodd appreciated all too well the personal sacrifices her father made during those many child-rearing years, and she desired to honor him in June, the month of his birth. As her minister could not respond quickly enough to honor his exact birthday (June 5), he scheduled his father’s appreciation sermon for the 19th, or the third Sunday in June.
And so the first Father’s Day sermon was preached on June 19. Other historians claim that Dr. Robert Webb celebrated the first Father’s Day at Central Church in Fairmont, West Virginia in 1908; still others claim that the inscribed gold watch with “Originator of Father’s Day” belonging to Harry Meek earns him claim to the holiday. Nevertheless, by 1916, President Woodrow Wilson officially approved the idea, by 1924 President Calvin Coolidge officially endorsed it, and by 1966, President Lyndon Johnson officially issued a presidential proclamation marking the third Sunday in June as Father’s Day. But it wasn’t until 1972 that it was declared a national holiday. And, interestingly enough, it is a uniquely American holiday; other countries celebrate it, but only in America is it placed on our national calendar.
How we celebrate the day is as unique to each family as dads are to their own kids. For while Mother’s Day has its own set of expectations: flowers, chocolate, and gifts, Father’s Day offers more spontaneity. Just like Dad himself. Oh sure, there’s the proverbial necktie. Or socks. But because fathers have hobbies and sports interests ranging from one end of the spectrum to the other, the day is celebrated with a myriad of activities. Golf? Fishing? Relaxing with coffee and a good book?
My husband and I went into the city today. The weather was as perfect as we’d ever seen: blue skies and 78 degrees with no humidity. We attended worship services in midtown, followed by lunch al fresco on a patio right on 7th Avenue. A long walk through Central Park was not only exhilarating; the picture-perfect sky served as an umbrella to the hundreds of New Yorkers throwing Frisbees, playing volleyball, canoodling with their honeys, and basking in the warmth of the sun on blankets stretched across the open expanse of lawn.
I was very mindful throughout the day of the unique role my husband has in our family, as well as in shaping our children’s vision for fatherhood. He is our provider and our protector. Yet he is so much more. He is fellow nurturer. Not necessarily the first one my children would run to with skinned knees, but the one who would run to them when emergencies hit home. He is the one who took our three-month-old baby in to the hospital for an initial biopsy (without anesthesia) when we found out he needed an emergency colostomy; the one who took the phone call when one child ran (a mile) away from home and was discovered by our local police; the one who stood by me just this week when I had a brief medical scare. He is our rock.
He shoulders the financial burden of our family, the direct result of decisions we made jointly almost twenty years ago. And when the going gets rough, he gets going. Up before the sun, commuting through suburban New York City traffic, he fights for bottom-lines, quotas, and margins all day, everyday. With rarely a word of complaint or frustration.
Most fathers have learned to deal with the harsh realities of everyday life. They’ve had to. My own seventeen-year-old son came downstairs a couple weeks ago, wandered into the kitchen and said: “I’ve figured it out. You go through school, make good grades so you can get into a good college, get a job, work yourself crazy, and then you die.” Hardly the happy-go-lucky outlook I would have preferred, but an assessment of part of the reality of being a man.
On Father’s Day–and everyday–we need to be more mindful of the generous efforts that the fathers in our lives make on our behalf. We need to be mindful of the sacrifices to their personal time that they make on a daily basis. That they rarely have time for lunch with the guys, a morning tennis match and sauna, or afternoon bridge. That they have accountability issues which we may never fully appreciate. That they have superiors to honor, subordinates to lead, and colleagues to inspire. That they have bottom-lines, quarterly quotas, profitability measures, and shareholder responsibilities. That they fight traffic on empty stomachs. And catch early morning airplanes on very little sleep.
The fathers in our lives would no doubt travel to the ends of the earth for you and his kids…if they knew they would be greeted by several pair of open arms on the other side of the front door.
Let’s hope that fathers everywhere understand the unique role they play in our lives, in the lives of their children, and in today’s culture at large. Let’s hope that on Father’s Day, father’s everywhere felt special. That they know, deep down inside, that their efforts on our behalf are fully acknowledged, truly appreciated, and deeply cherished.