Many of the world's most important holidays are tethered to Christian themes and events. This is obviously true of such days as Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. It is also true of Halloween (Hallowed Evening) which once was closely linked to All Soul's Day.
Father's Day, too, is linked to Christianity in that it was founded to celebrate the ideals of fatherhood set forth in Scripture.
The first widely-promoted Father's Day celebration of modern America was held in Spokane, Washington on this day, June 19, 1910 (a father's day had been observed in Fairmont, West Virginia two years earlier with little publicity). The Spokane event was the brain-child of Sonora Louise Smart (Mrs. John Bruce) Dodd envisioned an event as focused in special religious services and involving small gifts as well as loving greetings from children to their fathers. She brought up the matter with her pastor and he communicated the idea to the local pastor's association. The mayor of the city and the governor of the state endorsed her concept and issued proclamations in support. The famed politician William Jennings Bryan weighed in with words of encouragement.
Mrs. Dodd dearly loved her father. When his wife died in childbirth, he was left with six children. Somehow he overcame the difficulties of rearing them while operating his farm. His devotion to his children sparked Louise's gratitude.
Father's Day was slow to catch on. What Louise had done was not even well known in her own state despite the governor's proclamation. The idea of honoring fathers with a special day was actually reinvented independently in several other places, each locality thinking it was starting something new. Curiously, circumstances led other founders to select the month of June. In 1916 President Woodrow Wilson had endorsed the idea and in 1924 Calvin Coolidge recommended national observance of the day "to impress upon fathers the full measure of their obligation" and strengthen intimate ties between fathers and children.
Despite these presidential pronouncements, it was 1966 before President Johnson established the third Sunday in June as the date of the celebration. Even so, this not made official until 1972 under President Nixon.
The ideals of fatherhood are strong in the Bible. Unlike the gods of other religions, the Christian God is portrayed as a loving Father. Christ described God as his own intimate Father and claimed to show in himself what the Father was like. God gave his beloved son for the salvation of the world. Consequently, wherever the Christian ideal has prospered, fatherhood has taken on deeper and more lyrical meaning. The tender appeals of the apostles John and Paul to their "children" helped foster this attitude.
William Jackson Smart's self-sacrificing love for his children led to a national day of recognition for all fathers. We have a grateful daughter to thank for that.
- Hatch, Jane M. "Father's Day." The American Book of Days, 3d Edition. New York: Wilson, 1975.
- Myers, Robert J. with the Editors of Hallmark Cards. Celebrations: the Complete Book of American Holidays. Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Co., 1972.
- Various encyclopedia and internet articles, such as Wikipedia and www.fathersdaycelebration.com
Last updated June, 2013. awc