As we celebrate Father’s Day 2017, we continue a tradition that started in the USA in 1910. Sonora Dodd came up with the idea to honor fathers during a Mother’s Day church service. She became both catalyst and champion of the movement.
When Sonora was just 16, her mother died giving birth to her sixth child. Sonora’s father assumed the daunting challenge of single parenthood. In her eyes, he excelled. For Sonora, honoring her father was a labor of love. Extending that honor to other fathers became her lifelong cause. Thanks to her vision and tenacity, the first Father’s Day was observed in Washington on June 19, 1910.
However, Father’s Day in the USA didn’t enjoy the enthusiastic support of retailers early on, compared to Mother’s Day. Slowly, but surely, it gained the proper recognition. Finally, in 1972, President Richard Nixon proclaimed the third Sunday in June to be Father’s Day. Sonora Dodd survived to see her dream become her legacy, for her own beloved father and for deserving dads all across America.
Nota bene, the words “deserving dads.” The ability to sire, adopt or foster a child is necessary, but far from sufficient, for true fatherhood. Many of us learned that lesson the hard way, from men who may have been prolific procreators, but failures as fathers for reasons too numerous to mention here.
In my opinion, the ultimate test for true fatherhood is pure, unconditional love, even when that love is unrequited. From the “Parable of the Prodigal Son” in the New Testament, to the George Strait song, “Daddies Don’t Just Love Their Children Every Now and Then, It’s a Love Without End, Amen,” and Jeremy Stone’s poignant paean to “A Good Man,” positive examples of fatherhood abound.
The USA has changed dramatically since Sonora Dodd died in 1978. In contemporary American culture, both fatherhood and motherhood have taken on new and expanded meanings to accommodate other variations of family and household life.
For example, more and more grandparents are raising their grandchildren. Why? Because their own children are incapable or unwilling to do so. For many, it’s because these children/adults are addicted to alcohol, heroin or prescription drugs.
In 2005, about 2.5 million children were living with their grandparents and in their care. By 2015, that number had grown to nearly 3 million. It continues to rise in 2017, due largely to drug addiction, most notably to opioids.
To their credit, many grandparents take on the role of raising their grandchildren willingly, and do it well. However, their labor of love can come at a cost to their financial security and peace of mind in what they hoped and dreamed would be their “golden years.”
More recently, even great-grandparents are raising their grandchildren's children, for the same reasons already mentioned. Whether this is an anomaly or a trend remains to be seen.
Still, Father’s Day is worth celebrating, and so is fatherhood, every day of of the year.
Retired Army Col. Thomas B. Vaughn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.