Father’s Day originated in Spokane
June 13, 2007
SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) – Sonora Smart Dodd sat in church on Mother’s Day in 1909, and didn’t like what she heard.
The Rev. Harry Rasmus was rambling on about the importance of mothers, but had nothing to say about fathers.
Dodd decided then that men like her father, William Smart – a widowed Civil War veteran who raised his six children on a farm – needed a similar holiday, and embarked on a lifelong quest to make it happen.
It was a long slog for the Spokane woman.
While Mother’s Day was quickly accepted as a national holiday, it took decades for fathers to get the same acclaim. Father’s Day only this year is celebrating its 35th anniversary since President Nixon made it a permanent holiday in 1972.
Fathers enjoy a murky pop-culture image, from Homer Simpson to Darth Vader to Alec (“rude, thoughtless little pig”) Baldwin.
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That troubles author Michael Gurian, a Spokane father who has written extensively about the relationship between fathers and sons.
“Certainly now there is a lot of media imagery that makes dads look dumb,” Gurian said.
That’s a major reason why the nation needs Father’s Day, he said.
“We are basically buying some time with that holiday,” Gurian said. “It’s an opportunity for fathers to pass something down to their kids.”
Gurian is a social philosopher and author of 21 books who is best known as an advocate for improving the ways boys are raised.
Like most places, Spokane does nothing special for Father’s Day.
“I’d like to see every community make a bigger deal of it,” he said.
Sonora Dodd didn’t have any trouble knowing how special her father was. Widowed when his wife Ellen died in 1898 while giving birth to their sixth child, William Jackson Smart raised the teenage Sonora and her five younger brothers on a farm outside Spokane.
Some credit the creation of Father’s Day to Grace Golden Clayton of Fairmount, W.Va., who is said to have suggested to the pastor of her church that he hold a service in honor of fathers on July 5, 1908.
But there is general agreement that the defining moment came when Sonora Dodd was listening to the sermon on the new holiday of Mother’s Day at the Central United Methodist Church in Spokane. She had immediately approached the Spokane Ministerial Alliance to suggest a holiday in June, when her father was born, to honor all fathers.
The first citywide Father’s Day celebration was held a year later in Spokane, and quickly spread across the country. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson came to Spokane to speak at Father’s Day services.
But Congress, fearing commercialization, resisted making it a national holiday. It was not until 1966 that President Lyndon Johnson issued the first presidential proclamation honoring fathers and designated the third Sunday in June as Father’s Day. In 1972, President Nixon signed the law that made it permanent. Today, more than thirty countries reserve a special day each year for fathers.
Mother’s Day, first held in 1908, won a much quicker acceptance. Congress designated the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day in 1914.
Mothers also get more money lavished on them. The National Retail Federation estimated that sales on Father’s Day items will total $9.9 billion this year, compared to $15.7 billion for Mother’s Day items. The average spending on gifts for mom is $139.14, compared to $98.34 for dad, the federation said.
After greeting cards, the most popular gifts for dads are clothing, gift cards and books or CDs. Flowers and gift cards top the list for mom.
Sonora Dodd was honored for her work at the World’s Fair in Spokane in 1974, and died in 1978 at the age of ninety-six. Today there are just a handful of public signs of the city’s role in the holiday.
There’s a plaque at the local YMCA, and another at the Central United Methodist Church, which reads:
“Here, in this sanctuary, Mrs. Dodd was moved to honor fathers in the same manner as mothers…” the plaque begins.
Her grave stone identifies her as “Founder of Father’s Day.” But the biggest monument to her work is that, for at least one day a year, people think about fatherhood and what it means. The U.S. Census Bureau this year released a special report on fathers, finding that:
* There were an estimated 159,000 stay-at-home dads in 2006, who remained out of the labor force for more than one year primarily so they can care for the family while their wives work.
* There were 2.5 million single fathers in 2006, up from 400,000 in 1970. Currently, among single parents living with their children, 19 percent are men.
* Thirty percent of children younger than 6 living with married parents ate breakfast with their father every day, while 64 percent ate dinner with their fathers every day and 63 percent were praised three or more times a day by their fathers.
* Custodial fathers received $2.1 billion of the $3.3 billion they were due in child support in 2003. Custodial mothers received $23.3 billion of the $33.7 billion in support that was due.
* Of custodial fathers, 46 percent received all child support that was due, not significantly different from the percentage for custodial mothers.
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