Happy Father’s Day: A Brief History (Some of it True)

Someone's watching you, dad...

Inspired by a sermon at Spokane, Washington’s Central Methodist Episcopal Church in 1909, Sonora Smart Dodd wanted a special day to honor fathers in the same way that mothers were recognized. President Woodrow Wilson wanted to make Father’s Day a national holiday,  as did President Calvin Coolidge; however, Congress feared that Father’s Day would become a meaningless observance and just another commercial holiday. Since most Congressmen already had an extensive collection of tacky neckties provided by their favorite lobbyists, they didn’t need a wardrobe enhancement from their kids.  But finally in 1966, President Lyndon Johnson issued a proclamation honoring fathers on the third Sunday in June. President Richard Nixon signed Father’s Day into law in 1972.

Whew. Now fathers were on par with mothers in the receiving-crappy-gifts-from-their-kids department. Does anyone really need a coffee mug or a shirt announcing “World’s Best Dad”? And judging from my neighbor who wears his “World’s Greatest Day” t-shirt every other day that fits on his round frame like a halter top, the criterion to obtain a shirt is having $3.00 to hit the clearance sale at Walgreen’s after the holiday is over.

The criteria for a truly great dad has little to do with being a sperm donor. Here are the top three on my list. Start thinking about the ones you would add…

Presence. Most small children have few memories of spending time with their dads. Why? Usually it’s because mom is the primary care giver in old-school, traditional homes. But a great dad is present. He is in the lives of their children even if divorce, travel and work makes it challenging. The simple act of “being there” provides children with the security they need to explore their own worlds with a sense of safety.

As a child, I remember looking out the window waiting for my dad to come home from work. He was so punctual that I would get teary-eyed with worry if he didn’t walk through the front door at 5:30 PM each work day. The handful of times that he missed that half-hour chime of the clock meant that his train had run into trouble and was delayed. But I always knew that he would come home. Always.

Affection. A hundred years ago, dads worked all day while moms tended to the children and ran the household. The philosophy of many men was that women did all of the nurturing of the children, and men would step in when something important had to be dealt with like cleaning a carburetor or putting on new roof shingles.  A father’s strength was measured by his ability to beat his sons in arm wrestling and to pay the bills.

In high school, my soccer team boarded a bus in Illinois at 4:30 AM to drive to nationals in North Carolina. Showing up just as the bus was ready to roll, Steve jumped on the bus with his father in tow who carried one of Steve’s bags. I sat 5 feet away when Steve’s dad said goodbye. “I love you, Babe. Be safe and have fun.” And then he kissed his son’s head. Some of the boys teased Steve and made all sorts of stupid cracks. But not me. I had worked with Steve’s dad a couple of times. He was a plumber. I watched him pick up a cast iron bathtub and carry it over his head down the stairs and into his truck. The man was as strong as an ox. He knew more ways to curse then a professor of foreign languages. And I saw him drain a case of beer in 2 hours while we dug a trench side-by-side with shovels. But his core strength as a father came from the tenderness that he willingly demonstrated to his son.

Patience. Great fathers know how to take a deep breath when a situation requires patience. Picture the most uptight, fastidious man you know. Can you picture him being okay with his children eating an ice cream cone with splotches and drips running down their lips and all over their shirts…while sitting in his Lexus? Let’s be honest: NO ONE ENJOYS WATCHING THAT OR CLEANING IT UP. But instead of demanding perfection, great dads demonstrate patience.

As a kid, I remember my dad putting my finicky eating under extinction by using patience. In front of me sat a plate of cold peas that I refused to eat. My dad didn’t yell. He said, “You can sit there until you finish.” I did…eventually. Of course, I DID shove some of them inside the crotch of the metal railing near my chair. And that gave my dad another opportunity to practice patience.

Patience says, “You’re okay. You’re not a idiot or a slob or an inconvenience. You’re my child. And I love you.” And for some dads, saying I love you with actions comes more naturally than saying it with words.

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Thanks for everything, dad. I’m glad you’ve retired so I won’t have to get you an ugly tie this year. How are you set on frozen pizzas?

What would you put on your list?

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