As we celebrate Father’s Day 2014, we continue a tradition that began way back in 1910. Credit for starting Father’s Day goes to Sonora Smart Dodd of Spokane, Wash. She came up with the idea during a Mother’s Day Church service on June 20, 1909.
When Sonora was 16, her mother died giving birth to her sixth child. Sonora’s father took on the challenge of single parenthood. In her mind, he excelled.
For Sonora, honoring her father was a labor of love. Extending that honor to celebrate Father’s Day for other fathers became her cause. Thanks to her vision and will, Father’s Day was first observed in Washington on June 19, 1910. Her idea spread like wildfire across the USA, as more and more states adopted Father’s Day.
In 1924, President Calvin Coolidge recognized Father’s Day as the third Sunday in June of that year. He encouraged the states to follow his lead. In 1956, Congress officially recognized Father’s Day in a joint resolution. Ten years later, President Lyndon Johnson proclaimed the third Sunday in June to be Father’s Day. Finally, in 1972, President Richard Nixon made observance of Father’s Day on the third Sunday in June permanent. Sonora Smart Dodd survived to see her dream become a legacy-for her own beloved father-and deserving dads all across America.
Notice the words “deserving dads.” The ability to sire a child is necessary, but not sufficient, for fatherhood. I learned that lesson the hard way, from a man I never really knew. He was a prolific procreator, but a failure as a father-at least to me. So, my mother performed both roles for my sisters, Doris, Geneva, and me, to our lifelong gratitude.
In my view, the sufficient condition for true fatherhood is pure love-unadulterated and unconditional-even when that love is unrequited. As George Strait sang so well, “It’s a love without end, Amen.”
American society has changed dramatically since Sonora Smart Dodd died in 1978, at the ripe old age of 96. In what passes for contemporary popular culture, fatherhood has taken on new and myriad meanings, including who’s the daddy in same-sex marriages, and other variations of family life.
Call me old-fashioned, but I still believe in the ideal of a loving father and mother as the bedrock of parenthood. I hold to that faith, even in the face of assaults on traditional marriage and family life from various fronts, including gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender groups.
Thank God, we live in a free country, warts and all. And freedom includes tolerating a lot of things we don’t like-and some things we even detest, while sticking to our guns on fundamental principles, like fatherhood.
Meanwhile, many single parents are doing just what Sonora’s father and my mother did: performing both parents’ roles and succeeding against formidable odds in raising their children to be useful, productive citizens. For that, they deserve our tribute, too.
Happy Father’s Day!
Retired Army Col. Thomas B. Vaughn can be reached at email@example.com.