Celebrating Fatherhood

With Father’s Day around the corner, it’s time to remember, honour, and celebrate fatherhood.

Interestingly, when Father’s Day was first proposed, men associated the tribute with Mother’s Day, a celebration couched in femininity and, understandably, found the idea effeminate and unappealing. One historian wrote, “(men) scoffed at the holiday’s sentimental attempts to domesticate manliness with flowers and gift-giving, or they derided the proliferation of such holidays as a commercial gimmick to sell more products – often paid for by the father himself.”

Lawrence R. Samuel, the author of American Fatherhood: A Cultural History explains that men had a different role in the family during the first half of the 1900s.  It was patriarchal, so they thought a special day to exalt fatherhood was silly.

So, how did Father’s Day come about?

The Origin of Father’s Day

History reports the origins of Father’s Day can be traced back more than 4000 years to a Babylonian chap called Elmesu, who carved a message to his father on a clay card.  (The image is not that of Elmesu’s clay carving… ‘just what I imagine it may have looked like.) 

Elmesu’s message wished his father a long and happy life. Now, while I’m quite sure Elmesu was a thoughtful chap that loved and appreciated his father (after all, carving a message in clay is no easy task and (surely) a labour of love), I’m not sure this was the origin of Father’s Day. More likely, the origin lies in the stories of Grace Clayton and Sonoro Dodd.

Babylonian clay tablet

(Image courtesy of https://www.spurlock.illinois.edu/collections/search-patecollection/details.php?a=1913.14.0522)

The Women that Inspired Father’s Day

Grace Clayton

Grace Clayton has been credited as the woman behind the first recorded occasion that celebrated fathers.  In 1907, a coal mining disaster in Monongah, West Virginia claimed the lives of 361 men, 250 of them fathers.  Grace suggested to her local pastor that a commemoration service be held to honour the men that died.

“It was partly the explosion that set me to think how important and loved most fathers are,” Clayton said when interviewed by The Fairmont Times on September 23, 1979.  “All those lonely children and the heart-broken wives and mothers, made orphans and widows in a matter of a few minutes. Oh, how sad and frightening to have no father, no husband, to turn to at such a sad time.”

A Father’s Day service was held on 5 July 1908 Fairmont, West Virginia but the observance did not become an annual event; in fact, very few people outside the local area knew about it.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, another woman was inspired to honour fathers…

Sonoro Dodd
Sonoro Louise Smart Dodd

(Image courtesty of https://discoveryrobots.org/spokanehistory/doddfathersday.html)

Sonoro Louise Dodd (nee Smart)

When Sonora was 16, her mother died in childbirth, and left her father, Civil War veteran and farmer William Jackson Smart to raise six children, including the newborn, on his own.

It is reported that in a 1964 interview Sonoro explained that as a widower, her dad assumed the role of both father and mother.  “This role he performed with courage and selflessness until we were all in homes of our own,” she said.  Needless to say, Sonoro held her father in great esteem.

In 1909, after attending a Mother’s Day sermon, Sonoro felt strongly that fatherhood needed to be recognized, too.  She approached the Spokane Ministerial Alliance in the form of a petition, suggesting that Father’s Day be held on 5 June, her father’s birthday, but planning difficulties pushed the first Father’s Day celebration to Sunday, 19 June 1910.

In 1972, 58 years after Woodrow Wilson made Mother’s Day official, Richard Nixon signed a proclamation making Father’s Day a federal holiday.

The Importance of Fathers

In the early 1900s, fathers were not credited for the influence they had on their children.  At the time, most psychological studies on parenting focused the research on mothers.  In about 1970, psychologists recognized and began researching the importance of fathers.

Recent studies have found that children who have an involved father are like to be more confident, emotionally secure, and have better verbal skills and intellectual functioning.  While mothers have been recognized as the primary caregivers in the past, modern fathers are becoming more involved in raising children, as opposed to primarily focusing on providing for their families.

Ken White<br />

Celebrating Ken

My late father, Ken, were he alive, would say that had he known my verbal skills were enhanced by having an involved father, he would’ve ignored me for the better part of my childhood.  When I was a child, my incessant chatter drove him nuts – one day, at the end of his tether, he said he would pay me 25 cents (a fortune in the early 70s) to stop talking for one hour.  Of course, he didn’t have to pay me – I simply couldn’t do it.  In the last few years of his life, he found the perfect solution – he simply removed his hearing aid!

American author, David Jeremiah, said, “A girl’s father is the first man in her life, and probably the most influential.”  While I disagree with almost everything else the man has to say, I couldn’t agree more with this statement.  Studies have shown a father’s influence on the life of his daughter has a significant impact on her psychological development and influences her behaviour towards other men.  In other words, he sets the standard for how she should be treated and what she should expect and tolerate in relationships later in life.


Ken set the bar, and rather a high one at that.  These are a few of the many things I learnt from him:

  • When he opened doors for ladies or stood up when ladies left or entered a room, he did not do it because they were women, but because he was a gentleman.
  • When he didn’t indulge in flattery, or undeserved praise, he was not withholding approval, but adding credence to his compliments.
  • When he did not argue with others to defend his beliefs, it did not mean he saw no value in his opinion but that he respected the beliefs of others, even if he did not agree with them.
  • When he declined a commitment to any sort of undertaking, he was not being unsociable, apathetic, or indecisive but he was being careful not to make empty promises or diminish the trustworthiness of his words.
  • When he listened without judgement, helped without being asked to, and showed kindness when it was least deserved, he was not being indulgent, a push-over, or a people-pleaser but, rather, he made a choice to always show compassion and deal with pain, his own or that of others, without trying to fix it.

Ken was the smartest, wisest man I have ever known, and I admired him greatly. I think of him every day of my life, and his influence continues to shape my thoughts, my behaviours, and the choices I make.

The poem If by Rudyard Kipling  speaks about what it means to be a man: the values, codes of conduct, and integrity.  Whenever I read the poem, I think of Ken because it describes his character and the way he lived his life. And I miss him. (In the words of Harper Lee) I miss what stood behind me, the most potent moral force in my life, the love of my father.

Happy Father’s Day, Ken, wherever you are x

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