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My Turn - Fatherhood: then & now
Thomas Vaughn

As we celebrate Father’s Day 2020, we continue a time-honored American tradition started in 1910. That’s when Sonora Dodd came up with the idea to honor fathers during a Mother’s Day church service. 

When Sonora was barely 16, her mother died giving birth to her sixth child. Sonora’s father took on the daunting role of single parenthood. In her eyes, he was a hero. 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.

For decades, Father’s Day played second fiddle to Mother’s Day. Slowly, but surely, the idea caught with the American people and American merchants. 

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.

The key words here are “deserving dads.” The ability to sire, adopt or foster a child is not tantamount to true fatherhood. Many of us learned that lesson the hard way, from men who were 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.

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 unable or unwilling to do so. For many, it’s because these children/adults are addicted to alcohol, heroin, marijuana or opioids. Others are financially and emotionally incapable of being responsible parents.

In 2005, around 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 sharply in 2020, with some 13 million children living in homes with their grandparents. 

To their credit, many grandparents are raising their grandchildren willingly, and doing it well. However, selflessness  can come with a cost to their financial security and peace of mind in what they hoped 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 2020 is worth celebrating, and so is fatherhood.

Retired Army Col. Thomas B. Vaughn can be reached at