In 1909 Mrs. John B. Dodd of Washington State, wanted a special day to honor her father, William Smart, a Civil War veteran.
Smart had been widowed when his wife died in childbirth with their sixth child. Smart was left to raise his family on a rural farm in eastern Washington. On becoming an adult, Mrs. Dodd realized the strength and selflessness her father had shown in raising his children as a single parent.
So the first Father's Day was observed on June 19, 1910 in Spokane, Washington. The custom spread, building on the efforts of other people who had been initiating similar Father's Days across the United States. In 1924 President Calvin Coolidge supported the idea of a national Father's Day and Lyndon Johnson signed a Presidential Proclamation declaring the third Sunday of June as the official date.
Truth is indeed stranger than fiction. In a day and age when many feel the traditional nuclear family is under attack, it is interesting to learn that the original impetus for Father's Day came from a woman who grew up in a single parent family. Today it has been estimated that the traditional “Leave It To Beaver” style of family fits only some 17% of American families. We also live in a time when many people have had varying and conflicted relationships with their fathers. It has been estimated that 39% of children under the age of 18 – some 27 million youngsters – live in homes without a father, and that half of these have not seen their father in the last year.
Here's where the example of William Smart should make us all think a second time and look beyond mere sentimentality when this subject is discussed. Any of us can become fathers by committing to love and respect the young people who cross our paths in life – to give them the benefit of the doubt instead of judging hastily. (Check out the latest RECONCILE newsletter at atimetoreconcile.org.)
George Herbert (1593-1633), the Anglican cleric-poet wrote: “One father is worth more than a hundred schoolmasters.” George Washington, the universally recognized “father of his country” never had children in the traditional sense and Abraham Lincoln had to bear a father's grief at the death of his favorite son, Tad, while the carnage of the Civil War raged around him. Recently, Tony Blair recently said, It is much harder to be a good father than to be Prime Minister.
These are all wise observations and encourage us to remember the command to honor our fathers, a command which this weekend indirectly builds upon.