June 19, 1910. Does this date ring a bell for you?
It didn’t for me either. Nor did it seem noteworthy…until now, that is.
This day actually marks the first recorded Father’s Day in American history.
For whatever reason, it never crossed my mind to investigate the origin of this annual holiday even though I’m passionate about focusing on fathers. So you can imagine my excitement when I discovered that this whole thing started because a daughter wanted to celebrate her dad!
Here’s the brief backstory: In the early 1900’s a Spokane, Washington woman by the name of Sonora Smart Dodd decided that her father, Civil War veteran, William Jackson Smart, was worthy of being publicly honored for courageously stepping up to the plate after her mom died during childbirth, leaving him to raise a newborn baby and eight other children who were still under his roof at the time.
But this story is even more incredible.
William ended up as a single dad to a total of 14 children: four from his first marriage, six from his second marriage, a step father to three fatherless children from his second wife, and then became a father figure to the young daughter of his widowed sister, both whom he took in. Yet despite losing two wives to death, Mr. Smart was dedicated to being an invested single father during an era when this role for men was not necessarily the norm.
Clearly, William Smart was a hero on the battlefield and in his home.
With Senora Dodd leading the way, Spokane residents enthusiastically embraced this tradition of hailing fathers on the second Sunday in June each year during church services by giving them roses (red for the living and white in memory of the deceased). And because one honorable father did the right thing by singlehandedly investing in caring for his 14 children, our national holiday was born.
Great strides were made towards making this day a formalized festivity when President Woodrow Wilson attended the Father’s Day celebration in Spokane in 1912, only later to have President Calvin Coolidge declare in 1924 that he supported this day “in order to establish closer relationships between fathers and their children and to impress upon fathers the full measure of their obligations.” (according to the Library of Congress). But it took until 1972 for President Richard Nixon to officially sign the public law to make Father’s Day an official day of celebration. (Who knew?! I guess Nixon’s mark on history goes beyond Watergate!)
I LOVE that the origin of Father’s Day is based on a true story of an overextended father who was the stable force in his family after he and his children had suffered great losses.
I RESPECT this dad for choosing to sacrificially invest as a single parent to his children, which honestly makes me appreciate even more the foundation on which this holiday was built!
I CELEBRATE that a daughter was the initiator of this national event as she went against societal norms for women of her day by leading a movement that she believed in…one that was based on love and gratitude for her father.
The correlations between this trailblazer and her extraordinary father are evident:
Courageous dad; courageous daughter.
Determined dad; determined daughter.
Ambitious dad; ambitious daughter.
Progressive dad; progressive daughter.
Resourceful dad; resourceful daughter.
Yet beyond simply being inspired by this dad-daughter duo, let’s now bridge the past to our present.
Wikipedia captures it best: “Father's Day is a celebration honoring fathers and celebrating fatherhood, paternal bonds, and the influence of fathers in society.” I especially resonate with two of the concepts stated in this definition, that of “paternal bonds” and “the influence of fathers in society.” I believe these two themes are sequential because as bonding takes place between dads and their kids, powerful and positive societal impacts follow. Stated more succinctly, dads matter when it comes to the health of our nation.
But sadly, I am compelled to acknowledge another reality.
Though I would love my blog today to only zero in on positive fathering and strong paternal bonds, I must add one additional bit of sobering commentary. I write this to recognize those who have lived a different story.
I know there are myriads of men and women (many whom I call my friends) who struggle to endure this day year after year due to the focus on honoring fathers. The reason for their distress is that their souls, bodies, and spirits ache because their fathers did not honor them. And because they have suffered unimaginable pain on behalf of their fathers, they have been left fractured and scarred, with deep father wounds and profound father voids.
For those of you who struggle today, from my heart to yours I say: I am so sorry that you have suffered great pain and loss at the hands of your father. I grieve with you that you didn’t get the dad you needed, wanted, or deserved. And because hurting people hurt people, your dad’s own woundedness poured forth to injure you.
Yet no matter your story, these eternal truths remain true:
- You are more than the pain you have suffered.
- You are worth more than you know or believe.
- You are truly valuable because you’re alive and you’re here.
- You have gifts that have been honed in the deep places of your heartache.
- God never wastes pain, and as your wounds heal, you will grow stronger and give more out of a deeper well. (I speak from experience on that one).
No matter what this day means to you---whether it’s hard or easy, celebratory or painful--- I trust that you’ll come to know in the depths of your being that you have a Dad in heaven who is with you, calls you His own, is proud of you, and celebrates you. And He is nothing like your earthly father who has hurt you, wounded you, abandoned you, or violated you. Your heavenly Father has made you in His image and proclaims that all He has created is GOOD. That includes you.
Finally, since this holiday was founded by a daughter who championed this movement out of love and respect for her father, today I encourage you, Dad, to ask yourself if you’re being the kind of dad whose daughter would start a national holiday in recognition of you.
Be the dad your daughter can celebrate today.
And I wish you the happiest of Father’s Days…from my heart to yours!